Niagara Falls- The administration of Mayor Paul Dyster has developed a new policy for handling FOIL requests with a view apparently of changing the declared legal intention of the FOIL law.
The declared legal intention of the FOIL states:
"The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.
As state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible.
The people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declares that government is the public's business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article."
Every New York State or municipal department – including even Niagara Falls, is subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
When an agency receives a request, §89(3)(a) it has five business days to grant or deny access in whole or in part, or if more time is needed, to acknowledge the receipt of the request in writing and indicate an approximate date by which the agency will respond to the request, usually not more than 20 additional business days.
But the Dyster administration has chosen this election year to change the policy:
First a citizen submitting a FOIL to Niagara Falls must submit it to the City Clerk, who then must submit it to the Corporation Counsel, who will review it, and if the person is someone the administration does not prefer, they will stall or possibly deny it.
If they cannot deny it legally then it goes back to the City Clerk, then it goes next to the department where the information is held. Then that department has to send it to the Corporation Counsel who again is charged with holding it as long as possible, perhaps, hopefully, forever or until the party requesting the info decides it is not worth bringing a lawsuit over or dies.
After all, how many people are willing to spend money suing a city over what should be free information?
If the Corporation Counsel decides that the info cannot be held or does not hurt the mayor then it will be released to the Clerk for release to the citizen.
What used to be a 10 day process has now become a 90 day or longer process.
There are literally scores of FOIL requests that the Dyster administration is sitting on.
So The Niagara Falls Reporter is today submitting the following 28 FOIL requests.
We will be posting these online with the dates we receive information – if we receive information.
In this way we will test the very idea of transparent government - as it pertains to Niagara Falls.
We have taken a lot of time preparing these FOIL requests and interested residents might care to follow the results.
Maybe the Dyster administration can delay releasing the information until after the election.
Our FOILS are below:
- This FOIL request seeks a list of all stipends paid to any and all city employees for all and any reason with the list detailing the amount of the stipend and the job title to which the stipend is attached. Such stipends shall include stipends related to such boards or committees as URA, NFC etc.
- This FOIL seeks a list of all city department heads, acting or permanently appointed, along with the total pay paid to each of those department heads in the years 2008 through 2014. The phrase "total pay" shall be interpreted to mean all salary or "regular" pay along with any and all stipends along with any and all overtime, along with any and all other pay such as pay for administering grants, special program work or all other such pay. This list should detail all pay and monies of every possible type paid to the individual department heads for each of the years, 2008 through 2014.
- This FOIL seeks a total listing of all overtime monies paid to city employees for the years 2013, 2014 and 2015 to date. Those employees should be individually listed as to the amount of overtime paid to them.
- This FOIL seeks a copy of the agreement/work program/contract that the city has entered into with regard to the design of a city animal shelter.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regard to the purchase, lease or rental of what is referred to as the city animal rescue van or vehicle. The information should include all bid and purchase information.
- This FOIL seeks the contract executed between the city and Modern Disposal in 2014 in regards to the "new" city trash and recycling program. Also requested is a copy of the city trash contract that existed and was in effect until the implementation of the new 2014 contract.
- This FOIL seeks the bid preparation and ultimate bid award information with regard to the city's purchase of trash and recycling totes.
- This FOIL seeks a copy of the ethics clause/program/agreement that city department heads must complete as part of their employment and appointment as department heads. If no such ethic clause/contract/demand exists then that should be explained.
- This FOIL seeks copies of the resumes of the individuals appointed to the city financial review panel in 2015. In addition this FOIL seeks copies of all meeting minutes of this finance panel from the date of its seating to the date of this filing.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regard to the repair/remodeling/redesign/engineering/consulting work at the city ice pavilion from 2008 to the date of this FOIL request. This information shall include all costs with regard to construction and consulting fees. Also to be included is the initial estimated costs as developed by the city at the beginning of this ice pavilion work.
- This FOIL seeks all the NFC loans and or grants distributed or awarded for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is understood that more than $250,000 in new loans or grants are currently pending and this FOIL seeks a detailed list of those grants and loans.
- This FOIL seeks all invoices, change orders, expenses, design work and information related to the Jayne Park renovation projection as carried out at the end of the 2014 year in an approximate time frame of September, October, November and December, with additional work performed in spring 2015.
- This FOIL seeks the plans, designs, engineering plans, cost estimates and budgeting breakout for what has been referred to by Mayor Dyster as Phase Two of the Jayne Park Restoration Project.
- This FOIL seeks a list of all city employees - appointed, elected, retired elected, civil service, exempt and any others - who are receiving what is commonly referred to as the "health insurance opt out payment."
- This FOIL seeks any and all city files, data or other information with regard to the possible use of the "Y" building as a homeless shelter or homeless facility along with any and all communication between the purchasers of the "Y" that occurred between those purchasers and the Office of the Mayor and city departments and department heads.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regard to the city's plans to design and build a skate park.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regards to the city's plans/estimated costs to design and build or support a dog park.
- This FOIL seeks a listing of all incidents of vandalism and property damage, and the costs of same, that have occurred at LaSalle Waterfront Park since the date of its grand opening in 2012. It is known that a number of such incidents have been reported to the city police since the opening of the park.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regard to the proposed cricket field to be built by the city on city land. Requested are the designs, engineering work, and budget information detailing the cost, construction timeline and funding sources by budget line.
- This FOIL seeks the casino revenue interest account information from 2008 to the date of this filing with that information including the money placed into that account, and or, earned by the account as well as a listing of all uses and expenditures for the account from 2008 through the date of this filing.
- This FOIL seeks a complete report on the costs, construction, budget sources, and engineering work with regard to the construction project being performed at Gluck Park.
- This FOIL seeks copies of all invoices with regard to services rendered to the city through the Desman parking consultants, along with a copy/copies of all and any parking plans that Desman prepared for the city as well as a copy of the proposed contract that Desman presented to the city.
- This FOIL seeks a copy of the City's written response to the NYS Comptroller's audit of the city's finances and IT system as delivered to the city by the State Comptroller circa May 2013.
- This FOIL seeks copies of all contracts, engineering reports and invoices related to the "test trenches" and related work performed on LaSalle areas streets, specifically 72nd and 77th Street.
- This FOIL seeks a copy of what has been referred to as the "Bonadio audit" as released to the city council in mid June 2015 with that audit detailing an existing $7.5 million city deficit.
- This FOIL seeks all information with regard to the bidding, purchasing, engineering/design and installation of the newly opened canoe launch in Griffon Park. Also sought are the estimated costs to remove and install the canoe launch each year.
- This FOIL seeks a copy of the contracts the city has drawn for the past several years with Clark Patterson Lee. Also requested are all expenses and charges above and beyond the annual fee paid to Clark Patterson Lee for each of those years with those added costs attributed and detailed for each and every other job performed by the engineering firm that was outside of or in addition to the annual contracted fee.
- This FOIL seeks all information and details as to how the city administration receives, handles, routes and ultimately satisfies/dispenses all FOIL requests. To that end this request seeks the individuals by title and by name who are part of the FOIL handling process in the city administration with those individuals so noted as to their position and power within the city FOIL system.
- This FOIL filing seeks the following information in regard to the Isaiah 61 program:
The contract or agreement that does exist between this organization and the city of Niagara Falls and or any of the city’s departments including Community Development.
The contract or lease agreement that has been drawn between the city and the organization with all details fully and transparently demonstrated.
The contract or agreement that supports and explains the city’s permission granted to Isaiah 61 permitting the organization to remove and sell any and all material from city homes that are under the ownership or control of the city. Also requested is a listing of the city properties by address that the city has granted such removal of materials from along with a list/inventory of materials removed and a list/inventory of materials sold and or stored at the Isaiah 61 reuse store. Also sought is the information regarding operation and staffing, renting, leasing and all costs related to the staffing of the reuse center.
A detailed report as to the source of all monies and grants and awards given to the Isaiah 61 program from 2012, when it is believed the program was approved by the city, to the date of this filing. Since this program is made possible largely through the awards/funding of the city it is expected that all and every source of support/grant/funding to Isaiah 61 (city, state, federal, foundation, private) will be fully transparently made available with regard to this foil request.
A detailed report as to how much money Isaiah 61 has raised through its website where it encourages all and any cash donations including the suggested request of contributing 96 cents per day to Isaiah 61.
A detailed report as to how this program is staffed, all salaries paid, all building/rehab materials purchased and all monies – regardless of source – have been paid out to date and or are planned to be paid out in the future.
A detailed report as to how many students or applicants have gone through the program to date and what jobs or placements they have realized.
A sample copy of the program application as required for completion by the student or program entrant.
A detailed report as to what office or person – either in city government or in the Isaiah 61 organization – processes the applicant paperwork and works with the program entrants.
A list of all any or all city employees who work with or are charged to work with this organization in any capacity at any time.
A detailed report as to how the training program works: hours required to complete the program, diploma or certificate received and the proof that this training/certification program is operating through or in cooperation with the Niagara Falls School District, BOCES and the local labor unions (by trade name).
A detailed list of all sponsors working with this organization, a report as to what they are doing to be called a sponsor and a report as to exactly what a sponsor is required to do in order to be considered a sponsor.
A detailed report and plan as to how the Highland Avenue Fire Hall is going to be rehabbed and at what cost per each phase of rehabilitation.
A detailed report as to how the $500,000.00 in casino funds will be used by the program.
A detailed report as to how and at what cost the Isaiah 61 house at 2215 Whitney Avenue has been rehabilitated.
A report as to what realtor has been selected to sell the Isaiah 61 homes and what selection process was used to select that realty company.
A report as to the board members, bylaws, meeting minutes, etc. of the Isaiah 61 organization including a history of the organization. It is believed that Isaiah 61 is a regional or national organization and so this FOIL seeks information as to how the local Niagara Falls Isaiah 61 chapter/office fits into the greater overall organization.