When government officials resist providing public documents to members of the public, there’s usually a reason for it.
It usually involves something they did that they don’t want the public to know about, which could expose them to ridicule, reprimand, prosecution or worse — not getting re-elected.
So we wonder what Montgomery County officials don’t want Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara to know regarding the county’s trash situation.
Santabarbara is asking the state comptroller to investigate the collapse of the intermunicipal garbage disposal agreement between Montgomery and Fulton counties.
He claims that some of his constituents in Montgomery County have been hurt financially by the outcome of the contract issues, particularly the taxpayers of Amsterdam, through higher taxes related to garbage-disposal costs.
County Executive Matt Ossenfort countered that the reason Amsterdam residents saw a tax levy increase was a change in the city’s equalization rate, not the trash contract.
OK. So they disagree on the cause. That’s legitimate.
What’s not legitimate is the county’s refusal to turn over to Santabarbara public documents he’s seeking that could shine some light on the true causes of the increase and on the failed intermunicipal agreement itself.
If county officials can justify their actions, then they should have no problem turning over any public documents to whomever asks. If not, then it raises the question: What are they hiding?
Among the documents the assemblyman wants to see are the settlement agreement between the two counties, a list of any environmental violations incurred by Montgomery County related to waste disposal, the new contract to dispose of waste at the Seneca Meadows landfill, and communications between Montgomery County and local municipalities about the cost increase.
The fact that Santabarbara made the request in a letter to the county rather than in a formal request through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) is inconsequential. Public officials have an obligation to comply with information requests, as long as the documents are available and in the public domain.
There’s no formal FOIL request form.
Filing a request for information puts the government on notice and starts the clock on when it must legally respond to requests and appeals.
If there are reasons for the county not to release all or some of the documents to the assemblyman, tell him what they are. If there’s no reason to withhold the documents, then turn them over.
Then let the public decide what should happen next.