Was Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey attempting to delay the delivery of public records?
Newsday submitted a Freedom of Information request last Wednesday to the county, asking for “the number of property tax protests filed this year (January til March)” — an annual request by Newsday.
Wednesday a week later, Foskey’s office acknowledged Newsday’s request in an email, but added, “Please be advised that in order for the county to process your request we will need clarification of what you mean by ‘this year.’ ”
It added, “After receipt by the County of this clarification, you should receive a response within thirty (30) days.”
However, the state Freedom of Information law requires that readily accessible public records be provided within 20 days, preferably within five days, of the request.
How do we know the records were readily accessible?
Because the Nassau Assessment Review Commission provided Newsday with the records last Friday — two days after the request was filed with the county administration and ARC.
“In consideration of the commonly recognized meaning of the phrase ‘this year’, in my opinion, the county attorney’s response is a little short of ridiculous,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. “Aside from that, we in government are supposed to do the right thing. I refer to that as the Spike Lee principle of law.”
He noted that the State Legislature’s statement of intent in the FOI statute is that government is supposed to make records available “wherever and whenever feasible.”
Foskey responded to Newsday’s questions in an email.
“First and foremost, neither the County Attorney’s Office nor the County were, in any way, attempting to delay the production of public records,” he said, adding, “It is customary for the County, when acknowledging a FOIL request, to ask for clarification regarding the request so that the County can provide the requestor with the most accurate documentation.”
He also insisted that the email was in accord with FOIL because “the county attorney’s office had every intention of advising Newsday, within 20 business days from the date of acknowledgment, whether it was going to grant the request, deny the request or provide a reason for the inability to grant the request within 20 business days . . . ”
But Tanya M. Lukasik, co-founder of Open Nassau, a countywide advocacy group that presses for more transparency in government, said she has faced extensive delays in getting responses to her requests for public records. She gave Newsday her email correspondence with the county dating to October 2014, requesting records she said she has yet to receive on a South Oyster Bay Road project.
“My experience with all the FOILs I’ve put in is extensive stalling, incomplete data when it is furnished, failure to comply with basic FOI laws and usually having to consult with Bob Freeman on every request,” Lukasik said. “For a county of this size and caliber, it is completely unacceptable.”