Friday, January 4, 2008

Freedom of Information delays...AGAIN!

Did you happen to read yesterday's editorial in the Observer Dispatch?
Editorial: An open government best for all
Jan 03, 2008 @ 07:55 AM
Observer-Dispatch
The year just ended contained examples of both hope and frustration when it comes to making government activity more transparent to the public.

All government leaders should work in 2008 to foster more examples of openness, leading to more voter faith in how their leaders operate.
Yet some governmental leaders obviously still don’t get it. Just last weekend, Utica’s Common Council Democrats conducted a private caucus to discuss policy and political issues. And New Hartford’s leaders continue to limit public access to proceedings, even scheduling meetings at odd times such as Saturday mornings and late Friday afternoons.
Concerned Citizens agrees...open government is imperative in a free society. Either New Hartford just doesn't get it...or they hope you don't! As a matter of fact, they don't seem to get the Freedom of Information Law either.

Take this past week. On Wednesday, January 2nd, Concerned Citizens submitted a FOIL request for a copy of the December 12, 2007 minutes that were approved at the December 28, 2007 board meeting. We requested that they be sent to us electronically. Mind you, the minutes are typed as a Word document and saved on a computer in the Town Clerk's office. Should be a simple task to send us the copy as an attachment.

Nope, not so easy. The Town Clerk actually took the time to send us an email stating that:
Receipt is acknowledged of your request.

The minutes will be sent by the end of the week.
Wouldn't it have just been easier to attach the minutes to that email? The end of the week is today, January 4th...two days later for crying out loud! For the record, as of 1:02 p.m., we have yet to receive a copy of the minutes.

Then there's the request for the year-end transfers that were read by Supervisor Reed at the December 28th town board meeting. At the end of each year, in order to close the books, any budget lines that have a negative balance have to be brought to -0- by transferring money from accounts with a positive balance. If you watched the videotape of the December 28th town board meeting you would have heard Supervisor Reed exclaim...four (4) pages??!! Actually, Supervisor Reed there are 5 pages of transfers needed to cover 2007 overdrawn accounts, but who's counting?

Anyway, getting back to the FOIL request. Concerned Citizens sat through the 10+ minute reading of the account numbers and transfer amounts. Even from a distance, we were able to tell that the list of transfers were printed from a Word document. So we sent a FOIL request for the list to be sent to us electronically as a Word document. We get an email back that says:

Receipt is acknowledged of your request.

The document is not available electronically. The photocopy fee for the six (6) pages is $1.50.
So, did someone want us to believe that the bookkeeper types her memos on a typewriter or is the town desperate for the $1.50 revenue? We made a couple of phone calls, sent another FOIL request to the town clerk and ended up getting the list of year-end transfers sent to us...electronically. Apparently, there was miscommunication between the bookkeeper and the town clerk. O.K.

And would you believe that we are still waiting for a copy of the 2006 Town of New Hartford audited financial statement and opinion letter. Wouldn't you think that would be available for review in the Town Clerk's office at this point? It's 2008, for Jiminy Cricket!

Concerned Citizens has a couple of questions regarding those transfers. Believe it or not, the transfers have actually shed more light on the budgeting process in New Hartford. Here is a list of the budget transfers (without the budget line names) just as they were presented to us. We will be adding the line item names and presenting our findings in a multi-part series that we will start over the weekend.

In the meantime, we will leave you with our favorite uncontrolled spending commercial...we dedicate it to the New Hartford Town Board.


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