Friday, July 29, 2011

Parks Dept. Delays Releasing FOIL Records - Lies About Complying - Daily News

"With all four FOILs still outstanding, The Daily News contacted the agency's press office last week.

Officials responded that in three of the four cases, the FOIL officer had either responded or asked The Daily News a question but never heard back, all of which was untrue."

Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Terrace on the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, part on a FOIL request the Daily News says the Parks Department did not properly comply with. Reporters and the public routinely complain about the lack agency compliance. The FOIL office is yet another division of the agency that is severely understaffed. - Geoffrey Croft (Photo: Anthony DelMundo for New York Daily News)

City-Wide

Attempts to access key public records about the city's parks, including a Daily News inquiry last year about asbestos removal at a historic Queens catering hall, often see delays that drag on for months, according to the New York Daily News.

Watchdogs charge the Parks Department is chronically tardy in answering Freedom of Information Law requests, which are considered crucial to a transparent government.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who plans to introduce a bill this fall to track Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the city, slammed Parks officials.

"No agency is off the hook when it comes to Freedom of Information, and clearly the Parks Department isn't meeting its obligations," he said.

The News still has not received several records relating to Queens parks requested between September and January.

The longest wait has been 10 months on a request about asbestos and structural stability at Terrace on the Park catering hall in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Built for the 1964 World's Fair, the T-shaped tower was the focus of a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series in 1996 that revealed it contained asbestos. It also has cracks that have raised safety concerns.

The News filed a FOIL request on Terrace on the Park in September. A Parks Department FOIL officer responded to initial update requests, but he stopped returning calls and emails in December.

The News sent three more FOILs to the agency between November and January. They sought records on tree complaints, plans for a rumored hockey game at Citi Field and efforts to lure a pro hockey team to Queens.

With all four FOILs still outstanding, The News contacted the agency's press office last week.

Officials responded that in three of the four cases, the FOIL officer had either responded or asked The News a question but never heard back, all of which was untrue.

In the fourth case, the agency said the person working on the FOIL went on maternity leave.

The Parks Department later sent a statement saying they "provide information to the media and the public as quickly and thoroughly as possible."

The department also responded that it receives "many hundreds" of FOIL requests each year, and finds many documents that requesters never retrieve.

Advocates weren't buying it.

"They routinely violate the law," said Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates. "It's yet another part of the agency that has no oversight."

Croft said he waited three and a half years on a FOIL request about the environmental impacts of the new Yankee Stadium.

De Blasio's bill would require agencies to send monthly reports on FOIL requests to the City Council and the public advocate. Agencies also would be required to put the report online.

Supporters of information access complained that FOIL laws are rarely enforced.

"If an agency wants to hide from the public, it's pretty easy in this country to do," said David Cuillier, chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee.

The News isn't the only media outlet to face long delays on Parks Department FOIL requests.

A recent amNewYork survey found the agency took three months to respond to a routine request for employee names, titles and salaries.

Read More:

New York Daily News - July 29th 2011 - By Nicholas Hirshon

1 comment:

  1. Public land Public spiritJuly 31, 2011 at 7:33 AM

    Good post. I'm rather surprised to see that it's from one of the city's tabloids, because it has seemed that the NYC Parks Dept has been under the mainstream media's radar. Lying and routinely breaking the law indeed. Let the conversation on this continue....

    ReplyDelete