Testimony of Maya Wiley to NYC Council on OpenFOIL

Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor
Before the Governmental Operations and Technology Committees
New York City Council
June 9, 2014

Good afternoon. My name is Maya Wiley, and I am Counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Thank you Chairs Kallos and Vacca and members of the Committees on Governmental Operations and Technology for the opportunity to testify before you today on these three introduced bills.

Mayor de Blasio is deeply committed to ensuring that government is open, accessible, and transparent, so that residents of New York City can engage with City government in a meaningful way. And he has long been a champion on transparency. Today, I will be sharing with you some of the progress we have made on this front.

I will first briefly discuss Intros 149 and 363, and will end with a discussion of 328, OpenFOIL. (Download Testimony) Read more…

Beyond Magic Markers: Open, Digital FOIL for NYC

This is the first in a series of posts describing the transparency, accountability, and financial benefits of an Open FOIL system for New York City. Our full report is titled Beyond Magic Markers, and is available here.

Responding to FOIL Requests Costs New York City 
At Least $20 Million per Year

An Online “Open FOIL” System Can Save 
$13 Million a Year and Reduce Response Times

New York City open government advocates strongly support the creation of an “Open FOIL,” centralized, online FOIL processing system. It will increase transparency, reduce delays, and create a fairer FOIL system for all. But Open FOIL has a big additional public benefit: It will save New York City government upwards of $13 million a year.

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) has guaranteed public access to many types of government records since 1974. This venerable law – which applies to New York City – is the single most important transparency tool New Yorkers have, and is relied upon by journalists, advocates, and the public to keep track of what the state and New York City governments are doing. Unfortunately, the paper based process used by city agencies to respond to FOIL requests is slow, unreliable, expensive and opaque.

Unlike federal agencies, New York City agencies do not use digital to tools to redact privileged information. Instead, they use magic markers to blot out private information. Additionally they , do not collect or report basic data about how many requests they receive, the nature of those requests, or how much it costs for them to respond.

Despite the lack of NYC agencies’ analysis, we can estimate the volume and cost of New York City’s Freedom of Information Law regime. This is thanks to the 2013 Breaking Through Bureaucracy report by NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, as well as extensive data on the costs of public records requests collected by the United States federal government and United Kingdom’s central government.

We estimate that, at minimum, New York City government spends $20 million annually processing FOIL requests; this is based on a conservative estimate of 50,000 annual FOIL requests, and a low average cost of $400 per FOIL request.

Money in Politics in NY: Jun. 12 Edition

Public Financing Trial Could Show Power of Small Donors

In a guest column for the Post-Standard, David Rubin, a former dean at Syracuse University, wrote that the trial public financing program for the state comptroller race presents an opportunity to demonstrate the power of small donors. Although current New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has declined to participate in public financing—citing concerns over the inadequate structure of the pilot program—his Republican challenger Robert Antonacci has said that he will op-in. Donations up to $175 by New Yorkers to Antonacci’s campaign will be matched with public funds at a 6-to-1 ratio, if he first qualifies by raising $200,000 including at least 2,000 small contributions. In return he will have to abide by spending limits and a $6,000 per person contribution restriction. Non-participating candidates running statewide, meanwhile, can accept up to $41,000 from a single donor. “Public financing empowers local donors who can actually vote for the candidate. It forces candidates to court us, one small donation at a time,” Rubin explained. And until state legislators pass reforms that apply to all races in the state, “we will get elected officials purchased for us by others, with the awful results we see in Albany and Washington.” Read more…

Testimony of Reinvent Albany to NYC Council on OpenFOIL

Testimony of John Kaehny
Executive Director, Reinvent Albany
Co-Chair, NYC Transparency Working Group

New York City Council
Technology and Government Operations Committee
Hearing on
Intro 328-2014 (Open FOIL), Intro 149 and Intro 363

June 9, 2014

Good afternoon, I am John Kaehny, Executive Director of Reinvent Albany and Co-Chair of the NYC Transparency Working Group.

My organization is among the dozens of major civic groups who have signed a memo of support calling for the passage of Intro 328, the Open Freedom of Information or Open FOIL bill. The venerable Freedom of Information Law is our single most important transparency tool and Open FOIL will vastly increase transparency, speed responses and create a fairer and less expensive NYC FOIL system. Open FOIL is inspired by the 2013 recommendations of Public Advocate de Blasio, and we urge Mayor de Blasio to join with Council members Kallos and Vacca, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer to pass this bill as soon as possible.

We also support Intro 149, which mandates publishing city laws on a city website in a searchable form, and we support the intent of Intro 363 which requires the City Record be put online in a more useful format. Read more…

Money in Politics in NY: Jun. 6 Edition

Working Families Party Nominates Cuomo for Governor

At the Working Families Party’s convention this weekend, the progressive third party nominated Governor Andrew Cuomo, giving him its ballot line in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Cuomo captured 58 percent of the state committee’s weighted vote, while Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout—who has challenged Cuomo for his failure to address legislative corruption—received 41 percent. In a video message, the governor informed WFP delegates that he is firmly committed to passing progressive priorities including public financing of elections, a higher minimum wage, the Dream Act, and women’s equality initiatives. “To make this agenda a reality, we must change the leadership of the Senate,” he stated. For the first time, Cuomo openly said that he would oppose the Senate Independent Democratic Conference: “Either they announce that they agree to come back to the Democratic Party, or they will face primaries this year from our unified Democratic coalition.” Teachout is still considering contesting Cuomo in the Democratic primary. She would need 15,000 signatures on nominating petitions by July 9th to get onto the ballot. Read more…