A year ago this week, the Long Island Press and the Press Club of Long Island co-published an unprecedented report card grading nearly 200 localities responsiveness to identical public records requests.
The cumulative grade was a C. Since then, some municipalities and agencies that scored poorly made improvements in how they handle Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, while others did not.
“Suffolk County has reviewed software and is developing a FOIL request/response process for all county departments to access and use,” said a spokesman for the county, which scored a C+. “In addition, the county implemented a search query on the home page of its website in an effort to allow for easier navigation of the site and easier access to FOIL forms.”
The report was released in time for Sunshine Week, an annual, national initiative highlighting the importance of access to public records.
In Nassau, which got a D+, the former Presiding Officer of the county legislature, Norma Gonsalvez, led a review of the report card’s findings. The panel made one change as a result.
“We added the link to the FOIL request to the sidebar on the county website to make it easier to find/access,” said Matthew Fernando, a legislative aide.
Besides changes in policy, there has also been changes in administration since last year. Republican Ex-Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who got an F in the report and is currently on trial for alleged corruption, was replaced by Democrat Laura Curran, who promised to do better than her predecessor.
“The Curran administration promises transparency, including the FOIL process,” said Curran’s spokesman. “The system is already being reviewed and improved by the county attorney’s office.”
On the village level, Roslyn Harbor passed new FOIL rules shortly after it got an F. Island Park publicly vowed to improve its complete lack of responsiveness. Some, such as Baxter Estates, which did not have a FOIL policy last year, produced one in a sampling this winter. LI’s 97 villages got a cumulative grade of C in the report.
But not all heeded the findings. The Village of Cedarhurst, which also got an F, now prominently placed FOIL rules on its website indicating that requests must be made in person at village hall—the type of prohibitive policies that make it more difficult for the public to access records and decreases government transparency.