The much anticipated peace banquet, at which Town, Village, PDDG, and media representatives gathered on April 30 to begin to strengthen ties frayed by the Newman Development Group’s controversial proposal to build a big box Lowe’s was a lovely affair. A multi-course Italian-themed meal, sumptuous desserts, fine wine, and good conversation in the beautiful setting of Sweet Briar made for a pleasant evening.
The peace the evening was intended to usher in, or at least hasten, appears to have lasted no longer than the next day. In a letter to me dated May 2, Geneseo Town Supervisor Wes Kennison went well out of his way and well outside of a fair reading of the law to challenge my use of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to obtain Town records related to Newman’s proposal.
In March, I had filed a request for 12 documents referenced in the billing records of the Town’s attorneys, Underberg and Kessler, but which I had overlooked in my first FOIL request, filed in October 2006. On March 16, the always helpful Town Clerk, Jean Bennett, informed me that the Town had received my request and would respond within 20 business days. Twenty business days later, on April 13, I received four documents and nothing else, no letter of explanation as to the status of the other records and no information as to when I might expect a response.
On April 16, I asked Jean whether I might expect any further response. She indicated she did not know. I asked again on April 17 and received the same response, so I filed an appeal with the Town requesting access to the records. That is exactly the process specified by the state Freedom of Information Law: the subject of a FOIL request has 5 days to acknowledge receipt of a request and 20 more days to provide the records or an explanation of where they are and when they will be provided. Failure to do so constitutes a denial of the record, the response to which is an appeal.
Geneseo Town Law is actually more restrictive. It states, and I quote directly,
“If the Town does not provide or deny access to the record sought within five business days of receipt of a request, the Town agency shall furnish a written acknowledgment of receipt of the request for the record and a statement of the approximate date when the request will be granted or denied. If access to records is neither granted nor denied within 10 business days after the date of acknowledgment of receipt of a request, the request may be construed as a denial of access that may be appealed.”
Despite these apparently clear standards, Supervisor Kennison responded to my appeal with an attack on my actions and my motives. He wrote: “You chose to interpret the Town’s actions as a ‘denial’ of your request, and filed this appeal within a matter of days. Your repetitious FOIL requests and appeals are burdening the Town and diverting Town personnel from more important tasks.”
Continuing, and getting more and more agitated, Kennison wrote, “Your conduct constitutes abuse of a process intended to ensure our system of open government. For the FOIL system to work requires a commitment on the part of Town officials and responsible use of the FOIL process by citizens. Barrages of FOIL requests simply for the sake of harassing the Town were never part of the Legislature’s intentions….Your FOIL request was not denied and this appeal was unnecessary.”
I am not seeking to harass or barrage Town officials. I am attempting to obtain documents which are known to have been produced and which are subject to public disclosure under FOIL. Any hardship in obtaining these records is solely a product of Town recordkeeping and record retention protocols. You can draw your own conclusions about why the Supervisor is so upset with me.
I acted precisely as prescribed by state law and with more generosity than is required by Town law. My generosity was rewarded with an abusive and flatly wrong response from the Supervisor.