The state can claim it’s making strides in making government more transparent.
It can pass some bill to soften the edges of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
It can create a much ballyhooed website that makes it easier and more convenient to file requests for information .
But such claims, laws and gimmicks are worthless if the state refuses to release public information when someone asks for it.
A good example of the state talking out of both sides of its mouth on government transparency involves a FOIL request made last August by The Journal News, a downstate newspaper, for records relating to the construction of the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge —what most of us know as the Tappan Zee.
The paper first sought from the state Thruway Authority “emails, letters and other digital communications” regarding the opening of the new bridge last year.
But the Authority deemed the request too broad. So the paper narrowed its request to a number of emails send by a dozen Thruway Authority employees regarding the shift in the traffic pattern.
And yet in all these months, the paper still hasn’t received the documents or even been provided a reason as to why the documents haven’t been released.
All it’s gotten is new projected dates for when the documents might be released -- at last count, six delays.
The Freedom of Information Law is designed not only to provide the public access to records, but also to provide records in a timely manner. And if the government refuses to release such records, it has to provide a specific reason.
Any departure from this procedure is not only a violation of law, but a violation of the trust between government and the people it serves.
A lengthy and extended delay in the release of records essentially becomes denial if the documents being sought are time-sensitive. That holds true here.
There’s a feeling at the paper that the records aren’t being released because they could cast a negative light on Gov. Cuomo’s re-election campaign.
If the Thruway Authority can drag this thing out another four months, the election will be over -- without the voters having had this information at their disposal.
Remember that line from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address about government “of the people, by the people, for the people?”
A government that violates transparency laws by denying or delaying the release of public documents is neither “of,” “by” or “for” the people.
And that’s when we’ve got a serious problem.