05/15/15 3:00pm
05/15/2015 3:00 PM
New Suffolk Elementary School principal tk, center, discussing the district's new policy of releasing public documents at Tuesday's meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

New Suffolk Elementary School principal Christopher Gallagher, center, discussing the district’s new policy of releasing public documents at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

Following an excessed teacher’s recent requests for documents, the New Suffolk school board has adopted its first-ever public information policy.

During the board’s meeting Tuesday, principal Christopher Gallagher recommended that the district require people who seek school documents through the state’s Freedom of Information Law to fill out a standard request form.  (more…)

02/04/13 8:00am
02/04/2013 8:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Bob Freeman, who heads the state’s Committee on Open Government, speaking during a meeting in Greenport last year.

Greenport Village plans to start charging people who file excessively detailed Freedom of Information Law requests, in an attempt village officials hope will rein in the extensive amount of time their office staff spends honoring the requests.

Last fall Bob Freeman, executive director of the state committee on open government, advised the village that it could charge for excessively detailed requests.

Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo told the village board at a work session Jan. 22 that requests that take up to two hours to fill would remain free, but any request that took more time than that would be billed at an hourly rate equal to the hourly pay of the lowest paid village worker who helps to fill the request.

Mr. Freeman suggested the village use that method to calculate the cost of extensive requests.

Ms. Pirillo provided the board with examples of three recent FOIL requests, including one that took eight hours of staff time on Nov. 27, another of three hours and forty-five minutes on Dec. 4 and one requiring two hours of staff time on Dec. 20.

“And there are more upcoming,” she said.

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she wants to ensure the village posts the new fees prominently online and in the office so that the public is aware of the changes.

 Read more, including reaction from the public, in next week’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

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01/25/13 1:00pm
01/25/2013 1:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  Bob Freeman, who heads the state’s Committee on Open Government, advised Greenport Village officials that they could charge for detailed Freedom of Information requests.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Bob Freeman, who heads the state’s Committee on Open Government, advised Greenport Village officials that they could charge for detailed Freedom of Information requests.

Greenport Village plans to start charging people who file excessively detailed Freedom of Information Law requests, in an attempt village officials hope will rein in the extensive amount of time their office staff spends honoring the requests.

The village was advised last fall by state committee on open government executive director Bob Freeman that it could charge for excessively detailed requests.

Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo told the village board at a work session Jan. 22 that requests taking up to two hours to fill would remain free, but any request that took more time than that would be billed at an hourly rate equal to the hourly pay of the lowest paid village worker who helps to fill the request.

Mr. Freeman had advised the village to use that method to calculate the cost of extensive requests.

Ms. Pirillo provided the board with examples of three recent FOIL requests, including one that took eight hours of staff time on Nov. 27, one that took a total of three hours and forty-five minutes on Dec. 4 and a two hours on Dec. 20.

“And there are more upcoming,” she said.

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she wants to ensure the village posts the new fees prominently online and in the office, so that the public is aware of the changes.

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10/19/12 1:58pm
10/19/2012 1:58 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Bob Freeman, who heads the state’s Committee on Open Government, speaking during Thursday’s meeting.

A state official agreed Thursday that Greenport Village officials should comply with a resident’s Freedom of Information requests asking for details about corporate sponsorships and an email discussing a recent sewage spill at the wastewater treatment plant.

Bob Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said the village should disclose information about the corporations who sponsored the village’s Tall Ships event this past Memorial Day weekend because the village had listed each company on an advertisement.

Although information about donations from private individuals are exempt from the law, Mr. Freeman said details about corporate sponsorships should be disclosed through FOIL requests. State legislation requires government entities, including municipalities and school districts, to release certain information to the public upon request.

For several months, Bill Swiskey, a former village utilities director and trustee, has been seeking details about how the Tall Ships event was financed. He has also been hunting for an email Deputy Mayor George Hubbard referred to as he disclosed details about a recent spill at the wastewater treatment plant.

The tank overflowed for about 10 hours — from 9 p.m. July 15 until 7 a.m. July 16 — after an alarm didn’t sound when lightning caused a brief power outage and a screw pump didn’t restart after the power was restored.

Mr. Freeman said even though the email would be exempt from FOIL because the village described the content as “a legal opinion,” he said the village should disclose a portion of it since Mr. Hubbard referenced to it at a July 23 Village Board meeting where he said the spill was 150 gallons. The state Department of Environmental Conservation later estimated 50,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater spilled.

During the special meeting Thursday night held downtown jointly with Southold Town and Greenport Village, about 20 people listened as Mr. Freeman and Mr. Swiskey got involved in several heated discussions.

Read more in the Oct. 25 issue of  The Suffolk Times in both our print and electronic editions.

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10/17/12 10:36am
10/17/2012 10:36 AM

ROBERT FREEMAN

Anyone looking for access to local government records for the first time might have a number of questions about the process.

How long is a reasonable time to wait for the information requested?

What kind of information is and isn’t readily accessible?

How specific does must a request be?

Attorney Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, has been answering such questions for reporters and the general public from his office in Albany for more than 35 years. This week he’ll be doing that in person in Greenport.

On Thursday, Oct. 18, Mr. Freeman will be on hand for a special joint village/town meeting at Greenport’s Third Street firehouse from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

He’ll cover both the Freedom of Information Law, which dictates how government must provide public access to official documents, and the Open Meetings Law, the authority on the correct methods for announcing and conducting public meetings.

Greenport Village decided to call in Mr. Freeman after years of complaints from some residents about the manner in which the village provides access to public records.

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

Former village utilities director and trustee William Swiskey, who frequently complains about the village’s response to requests for public records, was skeptical when asked last month about the meeting.

“In my opinion, [the Village Board] is going to get a lesson, if anything comes of it,” he told The Suffolk Times in September.

Click here for more information on the Committee on Open Government

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09/08/12 11:00am
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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