Watchdog Groups: Passage of Bill is Step Forward for Port Authority Accountability

FOILS to New York City’s Mayoral Agencies Outnumber those to City Council 500 to 1

In 2013, New York City mayoral agencies (like NYPD, DOT etc) received 50,000 Freedom of Information Law requests and the City Council under 100. (One report says Council received a total of 77 FOILs.) Mayoral agencies get so many more FOIL requests because they perform many more functions which immediately effect the FOILing public, including providing public services and issuing contracts. The New York City Council is a highly functional legislature and makes many decisions which directly effect the general public and powerful interests. Still, the council gets very few FOIL requests.

Governor Cuomo recently vetoed two bills which would have strengthened FOIL. He claimed that the bills were unfair because they, and FOIL, do not apply to the state legislature. The governor has subsequently asserted that extending FOIL to the legislature is the highest priority for strengthening FOIL. Based on this robust sample of NYC FOIL, the public does not agree. Fixing the FOIL we have – which is being widely disregarded and abused by local governments, public authorities, and state agencies – is a far higher priority.

In NYC, the executive gets 500x more FOILs than the legislature:

foil priority

Governor’s Order Does Little Compared To Vetoed FOIL Bills

Assessment of Governor’s Veto Message and FOIL Executive Order

Governor Cuomo recently vetoed two bills that would have strengthened the Freedom of Information Law. The vetoed bills were introduced at the behest of the State Committee on Open Government, and were intended to address long-standing problems the public faces when agencies refuse to obey FOIL. The bills were strongly supported by leading public interest groups and garnered support from more than a dozen editorials.

Summary

Reinvent Albany’s assessment rebuts the governor’s veto message and the executive order he issued. In his combination veto message/executive order, and in his subsequent remarks, the governor and his administration have made three basic points:

  1. The bills are unfair because they do not apply to the legislature. FOIL has never applied to the legislature, so this seems like an odd reason to veto two bills that would apply to all statewide and local agencies and offices.
  2. The bills would create “radical changes” and are “seriously flawed.” The bills are taken from language provided by the State Committee on Open Government, the state’s open government ombudsman. Our analysis does not find them flawed.
  3. “The governor will continue to lead by example in advancing transparency” and “will immediately direct state agencies to fast track FOIL appeals” via executive order. Unfortunately, as the chart below shows, the governor’s executive order does only a fraction of what the two vetoed bills do.

FOIL bills Dec 2015 Chart

 

Download our full report here.

Civic Groups Deeply Disappointed by Governor Cuomo’s Veto of Transparency Bills