Niskayuna

Niskayuna denies access to certain records, fails to follow law

PHOTOGRAPHER:

The town of Niskayuna did not follow the law when it came to responding to requests for documents, according to the Committee on Open Government. 

On March 20 the Gazette requested all documents related to an investigation into Deputy Chief Michael Stevens and now former chief Dan McManus. The Gazette also requested any complaints against either officer. 

The request was never responded to in the timeframe records access officer and town clerk Michele Martinelli indicated it would be. 

After the town failed to respond, the Gazette appealed and town Supervisor Yasmine Syed granted conditional access to the request for records “subject to approval and/or redactions” of town Attorney Paul Briggs.  

In her position as the appeals officer for the town, Syed is solely responsible for granting or denying access to records once an appeal has been filed, according to Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the Committee on Open Government.

O’Neill said Syed must clearly “provide access to or deny access to” records and further explain the reasoning for any denial.

However, neither instance occurred. 

O’Neill said that is not how the law works. She said the appeal officer can seek guidance from the town attorney, but the town attorney does not have the final say. 

On Thursday–almost three months after the original request for records was sent and more than a month after  Syed responded to the appeal, the town’s lawyer, Briggs, responded to the original request for records. He denied access to all of the investigative documents. Briggs did share one record out of the four that were requested.

My appeal determination letter stated that records would be provided subject to approval and/or redactions by the Office of the Town Attorney,” Syed said in an emailed statement Thursday afternoon. “On advice of counsel, and due to the ongoing investigation relating to the requested documents, the documents would necessarily have needed to include redactions which is solely the responsibility of the Office of the Town Attorney.”

Briggs did not return request for comment. 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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