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Mechanicville sued over records access

Mechanicville sued over records access

City accused of ignoring FOIL requests from former city attorney
Mechanicville sued over records access
The case has been assigned by state Supreme Court, with a tentative return date of June 19 in Ballston Spa.
Photographer: ShutterStock image

MECHANICVILLE -- A local attorney is taking the city to court, saying he's been denied access to public records on unpaid back taxes and the cost of repairs last year to the water-damaged Mechanicville Senior Center.

Val Serbalik, who owns property on Main Street and is a former city attorney, filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa against city Accounts Commissioner Kimberly Dunn, who is records access officer, and the city. He asks a judge to enforce release of the records under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

Other than one email response on March 20 stating documents would be ready by April 3, Serbalik said he's had no response to repeated requests he made to Dunn's office, and then the full City Council. He said no documents were produced by the April 3 date Dunn initially provided.

"Nothing, and they're blatantly public documents," Serbalik said on Tuesday. "They're records pertaining to tax payment records and to the letting of public contracts."

Serbalik was city attorney from 1986 until December 2018, with a four-year gap in the 1990s.

The case has been assigned by state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan, with a tentative return date of June 19 in Ballston Spa.

Specifically, Serbalik is seeking records related to the collection of delinquent, outstanding and unpaid city property and school taxes for 2015 and 2016, along with any records related to efforts to collect those taxes through legal proceedings. That request under the state's Freedom of Information Law was filed March 14, and generated Dunn's response that documents would be ready by April 3.

A second FOIL request, filed April 11, seeks documentation of repairs made to the Mechanicville Sernior Center, including copies of contracts. Serbalik said he believes those repairs exceeded $80,000, and he never saw contracts for the work, though he was city attorney at the time. The lawsuit says there was no response from Dunn to that request.

"At some point, lack of response constitutes a denial," Serbalik said.

The records he is requesting should be in the possession of Dunn in her capacities as city clerk and tax collector, Serbalik said.

"It involves, No. 1, the collection of public funds. The city is required to enforce deliquent tax liens on a yearly basis, and I don't believe that's been done," Serbalik said. "I don't know exactly the full story on [senior center repair] contracts. I didn't see any formal bidding documents, and that's what I'm asking for."

Neither Dunn nor Mayor Dennis Baker responded to phone messages Tuesday seeking comment.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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