Today I received a letter from Vincent DeLeonardis, the city attorney, concerning their denial of my recent FOIL. I had FOILed the city requesting copies of the invoices submitted by Mark Schachner related to the Saratoga National Golf Course zoning revisions. As readers of this blog may recall, I received a response in which most of the descriptions of the work billed for were redacted (blacked out). At the time, I contacted Robert Freeman, the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, He confirmed that the city had been over zealous in its redactions. I then appealed the FOIL on those grounds.
Just watching Mr. DeLeonardis at meetings I have been impressed with his knowledge and fairness. According to his letter, Mr. DeLeonardis actually called Mr. Freeman and reviewed the law. He determined that indeed, the city had been overzealous and he sent me revised copies of the invoices. I still have reservations regarding the final redactions. You will note in the documents that there is an entry for June 10th, for example, that begins “Review File Materials Re Golf Resort; Draft” and then there are what appear to be four or five words redacted. It is hard to believe that these few words should be so privileged as to allow them to be blacked out.
Still, in the increasingly opaque world of government, I was impressed and grateful for his response. Under Mayor Scott Johnson I was routinely denied documents. What is critical to understand here is that there is no enforcement mechanism other than to go to state court seeking an article 78 action. Basically, when you win an article 78 against a government agency you can force them to do something that they have improperly refused to do. Here is a more detailed explanation of what an article 78 is. The problem is that it is very expensive to bring such an action. The common result, as in Mayor Scott’s case, was to deny legitimate requests knowing that the plaintive cannot afford justice.
In that context, I was very impressed with the city’s willingness to make a significant effort to address my appeal. For all the differences I have with Mayor Yepsen, her decision to employ Mr. DeLeonardis, speaks well of her. His work is an extension of her office. It is one area where she has delivered on her promise of transparency.
The invoices I received are only through July and do not include the periods of greatest activity. There were more actions and meetings involving Mr. Schachner and Saratoga National Golf Course in August and September and I will be FOILing for those as well. As best I can make out in analyzing the invoices, the city has spent approximately $2545.00 in addressing their zoning issues. Given the cryptic nature of the descriptions and the redacting, it was difficult to determine how much Commissioner Madigan’s work with Mr. Schachner on developing language for the zoning amendment involved. As noted in earlier blogs, following the failure of SNGC’s attorney, Michael Toohey, to craft proper language for their amendments, Commissioner Madigan worked with Schachner to come up with language that would work.
Here are the documents.