The state Freedom of Information Law isn’t particularly long, it isn’t complex, and it isn’t written in difficult-to-decipher legal mumbo-jumbo.
Yet day after day, government boards act like they’re trying to translate the federal tax code whenever presented with a request for public information.
Public officials don’t flout the law because they don’t understand it.
They do it because they don’t want people to know what they’re up to.
The most recent example of that comes from the town of Niskayuna, where the town ignored a request made three months ago by a Gazette reporter for documents related to complaints brought in an investigation into two members of the town police department.
Didn’t say no or yes. They just ignored the request as if it never happened.
According to an article in Friday’s Gazette, our reporter filed a FOIL request with the town clerk on March 20. But the town never responded to the request in writing, as required by law.
So The Gazette appealed.
Town Supervisor Yasmine Syed, the town appeals officer, finally responded by saying the town attorney needed to review the request before releasing the documents, even though it was her legal duty to respond with either a denial or approval and an explanation for any denial.
Syed only responded to the appeal about a month ago, and the town attorney only responded on Thursday to the request, denying public access to all investigative materials and only releasing one of the four documents sought.
On Thursday afternoon, the supervisor said before documents could be released, certain information would have to be redacted by the town attorney.
Regular readers of our editorials recognize that as the ol’ “deny by delay:” Deny or delay the release of a record until the information becomes irrelevant or out of date, or until the citizen or reporter moves on or gives up.
And because the Legislature has failed to impose sufficient penalties for violating the law, government officials often see no need to abide by it. It’s like if they lowered the fines for speeding to $1, everyone would start speeding.
So now, because of the three-month delay in responding to our request, the public will have to wait for the town attorney to redact the information before releasing it.
That means more delays, and the release of records that obviously will be incomplete, if we get them at all.
The Freedom of Information Law is predicated on the presumption of access.
But once again, a government body has chosen secrecy instead.