Greenport Village Board schedules meeting to clear air on FOIL rules

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09/08/2012 11:00 AM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Bill Swiskey claims the Greenport Village Board is in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Anyone attending a Greenport Village Board meeting over the past several years has probably noticed a tanned, gray-haired man demanding information on a wide range of village topics.

He’s Bill Swiskey, a village native. Before addressing the five-member board during the public comment portion, he’ll typically smooth out a stack of papers at the podium. Lately, Mr. Swiskey, a former village utilities director and trustee, has been asking for a detailed transaction listing of the village’s finances for the Tall Ships event in May. In addition, he wants copies of flow chart records from the wastewater treatment plant.

Mr. Swiskey said he has been requesting this information because he believes the village lost money hosting the Tall Ships. He also believes the village hasn’t been truthful about recent mishaps at the wastewater plant.

Village officials said Mr. Swiskey has received an accounting of the Tall Ships event that shows the village made about $20,000, as well as a report detailing how the spill of partially treated wastewater occurred last month.

But why is Mr. Swiskey requesting — meeting after meeting — the same information? He claims he has never received the specific documentation he’s been asking for and alleges the village is in violation of the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. The legislation requires governmental entities, including municipalities and school districts, to release certain information to the public upon request.

“The open meetings law is a simple law to read and they’ve been violating it,” Mr. Swiskey said. “Why should the average citizen fight his own government to get the information?”

Mayor David Nyce dismisses Mr. Swiskey’s allegations, saying the village has complied with the state’s regulations.

“I’m a huge proponent of free speech,” Mr. Nyce said. “It’s a shame because the basic voice of the public has been sidetracked by a few people with an ax to grind.”

Village trustee Mary Bess Phillips hopes a planned public meeting with a state FOIL official will help the village, as well as local residents, better understand the process.

“The public does have right to be informed,” Ms. Phillips said. “On the other hand, I’m seeing a group of three people who have their own personal agendas and are trying to create a situation that doesn’t exist.”

During the Village Board’s Aug. 27 meeting, Ms. Phillips sponsored a unanimously-approved resolution to schedule a public meeting with Bob Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.

Mr. Swiskey remains cautiously optimistic about Mr. Freeman’s visit.

“In my opinion, [the Village Board] is going to get a lesson, if anything comes of it,” Mr. Swiskey said.

Mr. Freeman said last Thursday that the village has contacted him to schedule a meeting, which is set for Oct. 18 between 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“Certainly, an educational presentation is a benefit for everybody,” Mr. Freeman said. “When issues come up, the clerk [Sylvia Pirillo] has contacted me. She strenuously attempts to comply with the law.”

Deputy mayor George Hubbard said he believes the meeting with Mr. Freeman is a good idea because it will provide Mr. Swiskey and others with a better understanding of the FOIL process.

“Nobody is trying to conceal or hide anything,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Hopefully, it will clear the air.”

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