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More than half of surveyed county governments take too long to respond to records requests

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WAER File Photo
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WXXI News
The New York State capitol building in Albany, New York.

The latest Freedom of Information Law requests sent to county governments by the New York Coalition for Open Government, Inc. revealed only 61% responded within five days, the time period required by the law. The coalition is now recommending counties like nearby Oswego take some time out to revisit their processes in place to handle FOIL requests.

Coalition President Paul Wolf expressed disappointment that any counties are falling short.

“The free information law has been [in] effect in New York for 45 years now. It’s not a hard thing to acknowledge a request within five business days,” Wolf said.

Wolf said approximately 28% of the counties didn’t respond to the coalition at all. Another significant problem found was the use of private emails by elected officials. The coalition suggests counties like Oswego, Otsego and Seneca need to put into place an email policy to end this practice.

“These legislators are all part-time folks who have, you know, more than likely other employment. It’s important that the work of government be done through government email addresses as far as archiving and maintaining records for FOIL responses. When someone’s using a private email address, it gets a lot more difficult as far as having compliance with FOIL requests,” Wolf said.

The report also found that in six out of 18 counties, it would be very difficult to contact your local legislator. In nearby Madison County, the coalition couldn’t find any emails for elected officials.

“And that’s a concern, I mean the public should be able to communicate with their elected representatives directly,” Wolf said.

The coalition points out that problems with FOIL are likely to happen because the state doesn’t have a watchdog enforcing the law or issuing violations; the same is true with the Open Meetings Law. Onondaga County wasn’t tested in the latest round.

John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.