Gov. Kathleen Hochul at an 7 Oct. 2021 legislative signing addressing drug-overdoses. Gov. Hochul says the right things about transparency, but it's still very hard work for the public to access public records from the Government. Gov. Kathleen Hochul's YouTube Channel/Fair Use

20 Agencies account for over 66 per cent. of FOIL Appeals, according to NYS Committee on Open Government report

FOIL Requests filed with the NYPD triggered over 23 per cent. of FOIL Appeals on the NYS Committee on Open Government’s report.

By Progress New York Staff

Updated 14 Oct. 2021 15:05 Twenty Government Agencies in New York are responsible for over 66 per cent. of appeals seeking the release of Government records, an analysis of New York State Committee on Open Government data has shown, with the New York Police Department behind the largest number of open records requests that triggered challenges.

Of 4,077 FOIL Appeals tracked on a spreadsheet maintained by the Committee on Open Government, the NYPD was responsible for at least 961 challenges filed by the makers of FOIL Requests. The New York State Dept. of Corrections and Community Supervision, the City of Rochester Law Department, Suffolk County, and the New York State Dept. of Health rounded up the top 5 Government Agencies triggering the most FOIL Appeals.

Combined, 20 Government Agencies in New York generated 2,731 challenges out of a total of 4,077 FOIL Appeals tracked on Committee on Open Government spreadsheet. The data was provided to Progress New York in response to a request filed under the State’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.  Progress New York is seeking records about FOIL Appeals and their dispositions ; records about FOIL Appeals and determinations made thereon are required by law to be forwarded to the Committee on Open Government.

Government Agencies won’t address their record of triggering FOIL Appeals.

As has been widely-reported, Gov. Kathleen Hochul (D-NY) has promised that, “Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration,” she told talk show host Joseph Scarborough during an MSNBC interview.

Despite her promise, Government Agencies in New York refuse to explain their record of triggering so many FOIL Appeals.

The office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information at the NYPD did not answer a press inquiry about having been the target of so many disputes over their decision to deny or withhold access to Government records. Silence was also the response from officials with the New York City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene and the New York City Dept. of Transportation, two of the top 20 Government Agencies triggering the most FOIL Appeals. In total, five New York City Agencies were amongst the top 20 Authorities that gave rise to the most challenges.

In 2015, the news Web site Gothamist reported that New York City Hall were “screening” open records requests that reflected on Mayor Bill de Blasio (WFP-New York City). For this report, the press office supporting Mayor de Blasio did not answer an interview request.

The press office supporting Gov. Hochul, likewise, did not answer an interview request for this report.

Using FOIL Request data to measure Gov. Hochul’s delivery on her transparency promise.

To perform this analysis, Progress New York had to “clean-up” the Committee on Open Government’s spreadsheet. The names of many Government Agencies were misspelled — not only once, but many times. For example, there were approx. 16 different spellings for the office of the New York State Attorney General in the tracking spreadsheet.

But the tracking spreadsheet is in itself a misnomer, because the Committee on Open Government has informed Progress New York that the spreadsheet does not track whether FOIL Appeals were upheld or overturned “(in whole or in part).” Neither does the spreadsheet track whether records were released as a result of the FOIL Appeal.

Bill Hammond, a senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center, an Albany think tank, was at the center of a legal case that exposed a larger number of COVID-19 deaths at New York State nursing homes than the Government had been willing to admit. He said that there’s a lot of useful things that the Committee on Open Government could do to improve the public’s understanding of the Government’s compliance with the State’s open records law, like tracking FOIL Requests that end with the satisfactory release of records and to track that information by Agency.

In an interview with Progress New York, Mr. Hammond revealed that the Empire Center has filed 63 FOIL Requests, seeking Government records about Coronavirus information. Of those requests, eight have been completely denied, two resulted in the incomplete release of records, 10 led to a satisfactory release of records, and 43 remain pending, with requests for extensions of time being made by the Government, leading to delays.

Of the 10 requests that led to the satisfactory release of records, six took place under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and only four have taken place under the Hochul administration. “There’s not much change in the pace in how quickly things are moving,” Mr. Hammond said.

Mr. Hammond admitted that Gov. Hochul has been in office for a short time, that she’s said some things that sound good, and has taken some steps in the right direction. However, based on his ongoing experience with FOIL Requests, it’s not easy to get public records out of the Government.

“You have to work very hard,” he said.