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Group sues LI towns, school district over financial records

Islip Town Hall is seen in an undated

Islip Town Hall is seen in an undated image. Credit: Erin Geismar

Two Long Island towns and an East End school district were sued Wednesday by a New York City-based nonprofit that says that Freedom of Information Law requests for financial records filed earlier by the group were not filled.

Officials from Reclaim New York Center for Government Reform and Accountability announced the suit — which focuses on Islip and Babylon towns as well as the Southampton school district — outside the Suffolk County Courthouse in Central Islip during a news conference.

Requests for comment from Islip and the school district were not immediately returned.

In a statement, Babylon Town spokesman Kevin Bonner said: “The Town of Babylon responded to Reclaim NY’s appeal on December 11, 2015, with an emailed and written response. In 2014 the Town’s financial software was not capable of producing the electronic report requested, but the documents were offered to Reclaim NY in hard copy form. They did not respond to our offer. Our software has since been upgraded and all government records remain available to the public.”

The three entities failed to follow the state’s transparency laws when they denied or ignored requests to reveal 2014 expenditure figures, said Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York.

The Town of Islip at first refused to release the information, but then said it would comply if the nonprofit signed an affidavit assuming liability for any “claims and damages” that arose as a result of the records release, Muir said. He characterized that as a “scare tactic.”

The Town of Babylon in its response to the FOIL request stated that the town “does not have the requested information,” Muir said. He said the town ignored a subsequent appeal.

In his statement, Bonner said: “The Town of Babylon is committed to transparency and open government, and Reclaim New York’s assertions to the contrary are unfounded.”

The Southampton school district initially denied the FOIL request and an appeal, then responded that some financial information would have to be redacted to avoid privacy reasons.

“It’s time Long Island’s taxpayers saw how their money is being spent,” Muir said.

The group sent more than 250 FOIL requests to Long Island municipalities, including the two counties, all towns and villages, Muir said.

The effort is part of the group’s “Transparency Project,” which is looking to make public the finances of each of the state’s more than 3,400 governments. More than 75 percent of Long Island governmental entities responded with the requested information on time, Muir said, while nearly 40 failed to comply.

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