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Oyster Bay clerk's certification not needed on info requests, judge rules

Robert Ripp, a retired police officer, was denied

Robert Ripp, a retired police officer, was denied a contempt order against Oyster Bay Town. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Responses to information requests submitted to Oyster Bay Town are not required to be certified by the town clerk and can instead be certified by department heads, a state judge ruled.

Robert Ripp, a retired police officer from Massapequa, asked Judge Jeffrey Brown in New York State Supreme Court last month to hold the town in contempt for not complying with a June 2017 decision that ordered the town to respond to his Freedom of Information law requests.

Ripp alleged that the town failed to comply with the court’s order because the documents he received were not certified by the records access officer, Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr., but by other town officials.

Altadonna, who’s running for town supervisor in November, told Newsday last year that he was “prevented from certifying” the documents because they were reviewed by the town attorney’s office instead of his. .

Brown ruled that although the clerk is the legal custodian of records and responsible for the distribution of public records, “there is no requirement that only the records officer can certify the accuracy of the response.”

Town Attorney Joseph Nocella said in a statement Thursday that the court “correctly recognized that department heads are authorized to certify town records.”

Ripp’s attorney, Vincent Grande of Massapequa, said he disagrees with the judge’s decision and is planning to file an appeal.

“I’m disappointed that the judge didn’t feel that the action of Oyster Bay Town officials rose to the level of contempt,” Grande said.

Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the town’s procedure for responding to Freedom of Information law requests is “consistent with the law.”

“Nothing in the law says the records access officer has to be the one to certify records, as long as it’s somebody with knowledge of the records,” O’Neill said.  

Brown ordered Altadonna last year to sign a letter stating the town had responded to Ripp’s information requests. Altadonna refused to sign the letter, which was drafted by the town attorney’s office, and instead wrote a letter himself to be responsive to Brown’s order.  

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