Comptroller DiNapoli Opens Authority Financial Data

Reinvent Albany thanks State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli for putting the financial reports of 500 state and local authorities online in open formats on his Open Book New York transparency site. The reports include data reported by the Authorities under the Public Authority Reporting Act to the “PARIS” reporting system from 2007 to 2014.  The entire database can be downloaded at the site (which is a little tricky) or can be downloaded here.

The Comptroller’s Office has been discussing upgrades to the Open Book New York site for over year with transparency groups, including Reinvent Albany and the NYC Transparency Working Group. We have appreciated the consultation and are glad to see the opening of this important data, which will help the public better understand what state and local authorities are doing with billions of dollars of public funds.

We look forward to taking a closer look at the data in the days ahead. Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.42.25 PM

Ithaca Journal: 52 of 86 NY State Agencies Fail Basic FOIL Requirement

Reinvent Albany frequently blogs about how state agencies struggle to comply with the Freedom of Information Law, and often fail to respond to requests in a timely fashion. We’ve also noted how ironic it is that the FOIL process itself is not transparent.

Now, the Ithaca Journal-Gannett has found that 52 of the 86 state agencies they surveyed did not post a “subject matter list” on their websites. These are the lists of agency records subject to disclosure under FOIL, and are supposed to be updated annually and put online.

Russ Haven of NYPIRG told the Journal that “without the lists, members of the public may not even know certain documents or government databases exist, and would never request them.”

The Journal inspected compliance with a very straightforward section of the Freedom of Information  Law, which requires agencies maintain a list of records subject to FOIL. The law specifically says:

• Each agency “shall maintain … a reasonably detailed current list by subject matter, of all records in the possession of the agency.”
• “Each agency shall update its subject matter list annually, and the date of the most recent update shall be conspicuously indicated on the list.”
• “Each state agency … that maintains a website shall post its current list on its website.”

When the Journal later filed FOIL requests for the subject matter lists of all 86 agencies:

Some agencies provided incorrect information about the size of the records, and asked for hundreds of dollars in fees before granting access to them.

In response to FOIL requests for their subject matter lists, the state Division of Parole and state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision both said their lists were 1,600 pages long and asked for $400 checks for copies.

After the public information office for both agencies was notified, two lists — totaling 139 pages — were immediately posted online. Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the two agencies, declined to comment on the fees.


Advocates Celebrate Sunshine Week by Streaming Assembly Committees’ Hearings

Citizens Union, along with Reinvent Albany and the NY Public Interest Research Group, are streaming the New York State Assembly’s committee hearings today. From the press release:

Good government advocates will use their smart phones to webcast assembly committee hearings to bring needed transparency and public access to the proceedings. Webcasting can be done with smart phones, which will demonstrate to the Assembly how easy and inexpensive it can be.

This week is Sunshine Week, a week devoted to showing that open government is good government.  The good government groups will highlight the need for the Assembly to make its committee meetings transparent and accessible to the public, press and advocates. Such a needed and fundamental reform enables New Yorkers to be more active participants in their democracy.

Read the rest of the press release here and see the webcasts here.

Or watch the press conference held in the State Capitol below.

Video streaming by Ustream

Successes, Challenges and Opportunities for Open Government in NY

New York has some of the best open data and transparency websites in the United States, probably the world. The state has made rapid progress using technology to get information about what it does and what it knows available to the public. However, “open government” remains the exception, and the vast bulk of state digital information that could be open is not.

Reinvent Albany recently prepared a short report on open government practices at fourteen state agencies.  We will write in more detail about what we found in forthcoming posts. But here’s a sneak preview of “Opening New York .”

Money in Politics in NY: Mar. 14 Edition

NY Assembly Passes One-House Budget with Public Financing Reforms

On Tuesday in Albany, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke to a large group of Fair Elections supporters gathered for a rally. Silver assured the activists that public financing and comprehensive campaign finance reform would be in the one-house budget to be released by the Assembly the following day. “You all have until April 1st to convince the Senate to do the right thing and pass campaign finance reform,” he added. On Wednesday, the Assembly approved its one-house budget plan with the aforementioned reforms included. Specifically, the Assembly budget proposed a fund to match donations up to $250 from constituents at a 6-to-1 ratio; similar to Governor Cuomo’s budget, which was introduced last month. Under the Assembly proposal, a 10 percent surcharge on penalties for securities fraud and a $5 check-off on tax return forms would fund the system. On the Senate side, the Independent Democratic Conference and the Republicans are still negotiating the details of the chamber’s one-house budget. A Senate resolution released Thursday said that the Senate budget would modify Governor Cuomo’s public financing program, but did not specify how. Read more…