Monday, May 9, 2011

FOIL in Stuyvesant

If you are new to this blog, you might want to start here or here and if you want to see a normal Stuyvesant meeting you can check this out. For other local news today, try the other blog.

Now, tonight I was at a meeting with Robert Freeman of the Committee on Open Government. His office offers opinions on FOIL law, among other things. Here Freeman explains it himself:

Here are some of the highlights of the meeting, I would say:

1. Bank account numbers should not be redacted.

I don't have video for this. Audio to come. Martin Roby and Robert Freeman go back and forth and in the end, Freeman agrees that bank account numbers should not be blacked out.

2. Did Valerie Bertram respond to my FOIL appeal on the issue of attorney redaction at all or not?

Under the New York State Freedom of Information Law, if an appeal is denied, you can appeal the decision to the appeal officer of the agency or government. So, when my FOILs are denied, I appeal to Valerie Bertram, supervisor of the town, who is also the FOIL appeal officer.

The issue is the redaction of the attorney invoices. Here is the invoice unblacked out. Here is how the invoices looked when I got them through FOIL.

Here is an exchange between me, Robert Freeman and supervisor Valerie Bertram about whether or not she answered my FOIL appeals:

Here are the sum total of my FOIL appeal responses from Val. I only received email and never anything in any other way. I have also enclosed my letters to her, including FOIL appeal, in the PDF linked. Two short paragraphs, as follows:

December 18, 2010:
Mr Pflaum,
It is my understanding that the audio files were sent to you today, 12-18-10. Your other request is very vague and I am not sure of the issue as you have already received all the pertinent information on attorney bills. If you would like to clarify exactly what you are looking for I will be happy to look into it further.

(no follow up after I responded about "vague")

January 24, 2011:
Mr Pflaum,
After speaking with the Town Assessor I can confirm that the information that you received in response to your original FOIL request was a two page inventory listing and a list of sales. No 'packet' of information now exists or did exist at the time the article was written that included pictures of the inventory. Mr. Green was given the same information that you received as a result of your FOIL request. Your FOIL request has been satisfied so there is no basis for appeal.
No where is the issue of the redaction of invoices mentioned. In the complete exchange you can read my request for an appeal of this issue.

Here is the complete exchange:

3. Why does the Register Star not take towns to task for delaying and obstructing FOIL?

Bob Green, writing for the Register Star, talks about some town, not Stuyvesant, that routinely claims that they do not have electronic records. Here is Green's exchange with Freeman:

So why is that the Register Star doesn't complain about incomplete and delayed FOILs?

4. Fire companies and FOIL

I think Martin probably knew that about the 1980 decision, but maybe not.

5. Document retention discussion

Martin thought I was being too pushy, but here's my thought: the law says that if you don't get an answer you like you can appeal. I got an answer to my FOIL of the document retention policy of the town which was unclear to me: I couldn't be sure what the policy was. The town gave me this URL:

This was a few months ago. I see no link to a document retention policy. Where is it? Search "document retention policy" and we get:

"Results 1 - 10 of about 160 for document retention policy. Search took 0.45 seconds."

So then Freeman told me to google MU1. Now, this shows that he thinks he knows the answer but I wanted to get the answer from the town. Why should he have to tell me? Why can't the town?

So I will google MU1:


Ah, here is it, 5th link in google:

And I click there and, presto, here it is:

So now I can safely assume that everything in this document is binding on the town of Stuyvesant. That's what I wanted the whole time!

Freeman here says that I should have known without asking. Then he says that I am smart enough to figure it out.

Why do I have to figure it out? It's easy to give someone the link to the proper document.

I didn't understand. I appealed. My appeal was ignored. Is that okay or not? Why is Freeman answering the underlying question and not dealing with the FOIL issue?

I don't want to guess. I want to know specifically what the policy is as adopted and I want the town, not Freeman, to tell me.

I want the town to tell me "this is our policy and you can read it here."

I mean, maybe I was being a bit pushy but I didn't like the answer and I didn't have equal access to the floor. When I got a chance to ask, I wanted to get an answer: why don't I know what the document retention policy is for the town of Stuyvesant? Is it hard to provide it?

Not for Freeman. He told me to google MU1 and after a couple of bad hits, I found something that I guess I can assume is the right thing.

Remember this? I mean, it's not Freeman's job to the town clerk in Stuyvesant. I want the clerk to do her job and Freeman to do his.

You see, the president cannot fix the sorting machine in every little town. And the FOIL guy for New York State cannot answer every FOIL for every clerk in the state. Instead of answering my question about the MU1, which I never heard of, he should have gotten on the town to do what the law says.

And Jimmy Carter/Dan Akroyd at least didn't tell the caller from Kansas that she was smart enough to figure it out herself.

Here is the synopsis of what I appealed prior to today:

-- Incomplete Boat Club documents, no photos, no inventory, etc.,  as per Bob Green article and Lee Jamison meeting
-- Document retention policy
-- Monitoring of Stuyvesan Forum by Howard Gleason
-- Email from 8/16
-- Redaction of invoices

Now I have appealed more things:

-- Did not receive ZEO report to planning board March 2011
-- Did not receive cancelled checks, Tal Rappleyea
-- Delay in release of Platt video
-- Did not receive notices of violation, ZEO
-- Email about joint planning/zoning meeting
-- Redaction of account numbers in bank statements

31 Photos? Cancelled checks? Deposit slips? Attorney invoices unredacted? Notices of violation? Bank statements with account numbers?

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