The town of Rotterdam denied a request by The Daily Gazette for access to a Police Department audit more than a month after the information was originally sought. The town only notified the newspaper it would not share the documentation after the newspaper asked for comment about why the town ignored the request in the first place.
Once an entity asks for public information under the Freedom of Information Law, municipalities are required to meet certain deadlines concerning supplying the information or explaining why they won’t.
Town appeals officer John Woodward Tuesday again denied the Gazette’s Feb. 24 request for the audit about its sex offender registry and how it was mishandled.
In February, town Supervisor Steven Tommasone said the Police Department didn’t have proper policies and procedures in place for the sex offender registry after an officer made a mistake in 2018 registering an offender, which landed the offender in jail for a few days.
The Gazette originally appealed the town’s denial on March 10. The town supervisor blamed an email difficulty for the delay in the appeals officer receiving the appeal. Even after the town acknowledged its receipt of the audit request, Woodward failed to respond within 10 days, which is required under the state’s open government laws.
Woodward only responded after he, Tommasone and the town attorney were reached for comment regarding a lack of proper response.
Woodward said the town denied the request because it would be an unwarranted invasion of privacy and was privileged information under attorney-client confidentiality.
The courts have ruled that documents or portions of documents are protected only in special circumstances, according to Paul Wolf, the president of the New York Coalition for Open Government.
“Some of the report may be privileged communication but not all of it and the portions that are not should be released,” Wolf said in a March 10 email prior to the appeal being filed.
This was the second time an issue regarding how an appeal was handled by the town of Rotterdam was sent to him for review, Wolf said Tuesday.
“Clearly the procedures in place need to be reviewed and corrected immediately,” Wolf said. “It is simply unacceptable that FOIL requests and FOIL appeals are not being handled within the time frames required by NY State law.”
The town had granted an earlier request for the name and disciplinary action taken against the officer involved in the incident divulged in the audit. They also released the recommendations from the law firm handling the audit.
“Refusing to provide the public and the news media with the full audit report regarding compliance with the Sex Offender Registration Act is troubling,” Wolf said. “Why are Town Officials unwilling to provide the full report which was paid for by taxpayers? Releasing only the report recommendations and not the full report is a disservice to the public.”