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Judge criticizes Oyster Bay and Manhasset schools over records

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this

Oyster Bay Town Hall is shown in this photo taken on Sunday, March 27, 2016. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

A state Supreme Court judge has ruled the Manhasset Union Free School District had “insufficient” reasons for not publicly disclosing contract and expenditure records and that the Town of Oyster Bay did not respond quickly enough to a request for its records.

The district and town eventually turned over documents to Reclaim New York, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that in June sued under the state Freedom of Information Law to gain access to the information. That rendered the suit moot. But Nassau County Judge Robert A. Bruno on Sept. 26 ordered them to pay the group’s attorneys’ fees.

The town said in a statement Tuesday that it would appeal the awarding of attorneys’ fees of $3,648 per defendant.

The statement said Oyster Bay “was always working diligently to comply with this request up to and through the date that they sued the Town” and that “the Town satisfied its obligations under the FOI law.”

Manhasset schools Superintendent Charles Cardillo said in a statement Tuesday that “the District is reviewing its legal options in this matter.”

The district released much less material than Reclaim New York initially requested and shouldn’t have to pay legal fees, a separate district news release said. The district has a “longstanding dedication to fiscal transparency” and its objections were to the volume of data requested and the risk of disclosing sensitive personal information, the release said.

The group alleged in its suit that the district, town and the Elmont Union Free School District did not comply with FOIL disclosure requirements. Elmont turned over records earlier and agreed to pay its portion of Reclaim New York’s legal fees, Bruno wrote.

In March, the group sent FOIL requests to 253 Long Island governments. Thirty-six still have not revealed their contract and expenditure information, group spokesman Doug Kellogg said.

“Knowing how your money is spent is one of the most basic requests you can make of government,” Kellogg said. “These are your tax dollars.”

Reclaim New York also sued the Suffolk County towns of Babylon and Islip and the Southampton Union Free School District. The Babylon and Islip suits are ongoing; Southampton released its records and agreed to reimburse legal fees, Kellogg said.

Newsday reported in August that Reclaim has common leadership with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive, has since taken a leave of absence as Reclaim’s vice chairman, Kellogg said.

Rebekah Mercer, who has close ties to Bannon and reportedly was influential in persuading Trump to hire Bannon, remains as Reclaim’s chairman and treasurer.

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