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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Good news about complying with Freedom of Information Law requests

City Editor Charlie Kraebel had seven reporters do a little experiment over the last few weeks to test how government entities and schools on their beat responded to requests for public documents.  All seven, who write for our daily papers, The Record and The Saratogian, and our weekly Community News in southern Saratoga County, were assigned to make a request through New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

It’s a terrific and important law, designed not merely for the media but for the public. Public institutions are doing the public’s business, and most of what they do should, by law, be available for the public to see. Government agencies even use it when they need to get documents from other public agencies.

The result of our FOIL experiment waspublished in The Record and The Saratogian on Sunday. All reporters received the legally required responses and found their requests filled. We thought there was an exception from the city of Saratoga Springs for records about animal control services, which was graciously accepted in person by the city records officer, who indicated familiarity with the law. They then replied in writing – but the letter was inadvertently mislaid on our end. The city didn't deserve the critical write-up in the originally published version. 

The FOIL request test was timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, described on sunshineweek.org as “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” 

It began with Florida newspapers in 2002 and spread nationwide. The date it tied to the March 16 birthday of James Madison, the fourth president of the U.S., a founder of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights. States have varying versions of Freedom of Information laws, and New York’s is one of the best in protecting the public’s right to know.

Learn more about how to obtain public records, and about access to public meetings, in New York at  www.dos.ny.gov/coog/

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was there a fee for any of the FOIL requests and if so did the paper honor those fees based on their requests?

March 17, 2015 at 4:23 PM 
Blogger Toff said...

Reporters probably will usually get better results for their FOIL requests than members of the public ever will.

April 5, 2015 at 2:13 AM 

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