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Towards Long Overdue Transparency, Freedom of Information Law Updated

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Towards Long Overdue Transparency, Freedom of Information Law Updated

December 29, 2008 - 14:00

The Journal News reports on changes to the New York State Freedom of Information Law made over the summer:

These changes are very welcomed to those of us seeking more accountability and transparency in City School District of New Rochelle. Unfortunately, the school district has refused repeated requests by Talk of the Sound to bring itself into compliance with New York State law.

Amendments to state law require that agencies provide records in the medium requested, such as compact disc, and mandatory awards of attorney's fees for violations of the Open Meetings Law.

The committee is asking lawmakers and Gov. David Paterson to require that agencies, when they can do so without undue burden, post on their Web sites meeting minutes, audits and other information that is "clearly public and frequently requested," Freeman said.

Providing the records is the only way that people are going to have confidence in government, said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale.

Paulin and Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, have sponsored legislation on the mandatory attorney's fees and costs awarded when a person successfully sues for an Open Meetings Law violation. The judge has to grant the award when secrecy is the issue in the lawsuit, not compliance with other aspects of the law. The legislation took effect in August.

In the 2008 legislative session, Paulin sponsored successful legislation that requires agencies to design future computer systems so public and nonpublic information can easily be separated. That reduces the likelihood that entire records could be held back because some of the information was private.

Other amendments to the FOIL and Open Meetings Law that were passed this year do the following:

- Bar agencies from denying records on the basis that a new record would have to be created (an exemption to FOIL) if getting the information involves programming to retrieve and transfer records to the medium requested.

- Mandate that agencies provide annually updated subject-matter lists of records they maintain.

- Permit agencies to charge fees based on the cost of the storage medium used for records and the hourly salary of the lowest-paid employee who has the skill needed to fulfill the request when at least two hours would be needed. When the agency does not have the necessary equipment, it can charge the actual cost of hiring an outside business to do that.

Now all we need is some real enforcement on agencies that fail to comply