City Denies Singling Out Blogger

I received a response from the city regarding my unfortunate experience at the Planning Department office.  As readers may recall, I had requested the folder for the development proposed for the metal scrap yard located across an alley from the ZBA Chairman.  Rather than the usual procedure of filling out a FOIL form at the counter and receiving the file, I was told to make a formal request to the city’s attorney.  In a previous post, I published my email to the mayor expressing concern about the incident. Below is City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis response and my email back to him.

 Mr. DeLeonardis’ response needs to be put in context.  As the city’s Attorney he sees his role as defending the city.  As I have repeatedly noted, I like and respect Mr. DeLeonardis and his response was what I expected.  I do think that his argument suffers from the limits that defending a poorly thought out policy necessarily entails.  As always I leave it to the readers of this blog to make up their own minds after reading the emails.

 My hope is that in the privacy of their offices, the Mayor and her Attorney will reconsider the need to establish a consistent and transparent policy for handling requests for property folders maintained in the Planning Office.


 


John,

In response to your e-mail below, as well as your April 27th e-mail and your May 2nd blog, please allow this to confirm that you have neither been denied access to records maintained in the Planning Office nor been provided with “special status”.

At the outset, it is the policy of the City that all requests for publicly available records are to be made through a FOIL request.  There are, as you correctly indicated, multiple methods for accessing and completing such requests.

My office receives and processes hundreds of FOIL requests annually which can be, and often are, voluminous and time consuming.  In order to expedite the process for files maintained in the Planning Office and Building Department, we have allowed for certain FOIL requests to be completed at the counter and, in most cases, the records can be reviewed at the counter.  If, however, the file is extensive, or if it contains documents which staff determines need to be reviewed prior to release, the FOIL will be responded to through my office.

Allowing certain FOIL requests to be submitted and the records reviewed at the counter is not intended to circumvent the process but, rather, to expedite it whenever possible.  Moreover, the expedited process has everything to do with the nature of the request and absolutely nothing to do with the individual making the request.  In other words, and contrary to your suggestion, neither you nor anyone has “special status” when it comes to accessing publicly available records.

You then questioned, in your April 27th e-mail, as to why it was necessary to view the files with Tony as opposed to simply reviewing them at the Planning Office.  As indicated above, the requested documents are contained in four separate files and, as such, it would be difficult or less practicable to review them at the counter in the Planning Office.  For convenience, we intended to allow the files to be reviewed in the City Council room, however, any time files are removed from the Planning Office or Building Department and handled by members of the public, a city employee will accompany the file for what I trust are obvious reasons.  Again, this has everything to do with the nature of the request and absolutely nothing to do with the individual making the request.  This is the same procedure that has been followed in the past for other FOIL requests.

Be assured that access has not been denied and the records are (and have been since April 27th) available for your review.  Please contact my office to schedule a time which is convenient for you to do so.

Best regards,

Vince

Vincent J. DeLeonardis

City Attorney Saratoga Springs City Attorney’s Office 474 Broadway – Room 7 Saratoga

Springs, New York 12866 (518) 587-3550 ext. 2414


From: John Kaufmann []
Sent: Friday, May 04, 2018 3:33 PM
To: ‘Vincent DeLeonardis’; ‘Meg Kelly’
Cc: ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘peter.martin@saratoga-springs.org’; John Franck
; Skip Sciroco
Subject: Response To Email Re FOIL Standards

Thank you for your prompt response to my email regarding recent FOIL issues.

First let me note that I have no question that if the FOIL requests I make are covered by FOIL that your office will make sure that I have access to them. With respect, however, there are a number of reasons for my skepticism regarding the city’s handling of this recent matter and several of your arguments.

First, in the past there has never been a reference to the physical limit of the files that  can be viewed at the counter in the Planning Office.  The now infamous barn “rehab” on Murphy Lane was something of a tome.  Not quite the size of the novel War and Peace but nevertheless, substantive.  The files concerning the Bonacio Moore Hall project had considerable heft as well.   They were both also  more controversial than the Dawson project yet I had ready access to those documents through the expedited FOIL process available in the Planning Office.

More troubling was the manner with which I was denied access to the Dawson files when I visited the Planning Office.  Had someone come out and explained the reasons you laid out in your thoughtful email I might have found it somewhat odd but that would have been the extent of my reaction.  What I found disturbing was that not only was no one available to explain to me why I was being required to make application to your office, I was not even allowed to know who it was who had made the decision to require this.  I will not conjecture as to why the person preferred anonymity but I would expect any objective observer would have shared my understandable concern that this kind of opacity was unnecessary and troubling.

There is also the outstanding question as to future access to these files.  I expect that the construction people for Mr. Dawson’s project will, in all likelihood, be visiting the Planning Office to check the files for information.  Are they going to have to go through your office and will they only be allowed to view the files in the presence of Tony Izzo?  That is a rhetorical question.

I know you and the Mayor are very busy and I am not asking you to respond to this email.  I would just offer that this kind of thing can be handled better and that it would probably be worth seeing this as a “teachable moment” and adopt some procedures to handle access to documents in the Planning Office in a more elegant and consistent manner.

JK

5 thoughts on “City Denies Singling Out Blogger”

  1. John,
    I have enjoyed your publication. Yet, at times, brevity might help your readers to better comprehend your message. You want them to get to that last collective statement or thought, don’t you? Our small city in Town Hall is filled with dedicated employees and they strive to fulfill their charges. I would lighten up a tad – a mite, in order for your concerns to be digested in a reasonable and gentlemanly sort of way. You have readership, so don’t polarize your potential readers. Not a stranger to Freedom of Information requests, I know that the official foil officer at the city is diligently working to address your requests. Town Hall is a friendly place, I wish more people would get acquainted with their elected officials rather than find personal gratification in attacking the system. The last several years has been a civil war and for the likes of someone, like ourselves, it behooves most interested residents to realize that the fix is in. Attend the next Charter Review Commission meeting, twice a month. They are working hard this. Cheers. John.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While commendable the Planning Office set up an “expedited” process (counter FOIL request), Mr. DeLeonardis’ defense of why this wasn’t possible with the Dawson files exposes how incomplete their process is. I.e., a Department review of the FOIL request is predicated on “if…the file is extensive”? Seems arbitrary. More to the point, “…if it contains documents which staff determines need to be reviewed prior to release”. How did the staff determine it needed to be reviewed, before reviewing it? Even if they can logically answer that question, why don’t they identify these and review them in advance for information that must be redacted? I know from experience that governments must establish what data must not be released, so the criteria should be known. If there argument is “we don’t have the resources to review in advance” I argue that they’re already expending these resources in a very reactive,and inefficient, way.

    Like

  3. Is there some major shakeup going on in City Hall?
    Steve Shaw is among the missing. What’s happening?
    Full time city attorney, new positions being created in other departments, tensions everywhere.

    Like

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