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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Cover-up in New Hartford...Part 2

Having witnessed first-hand the disgraceful way the Town Board and in particular, Town Supervisor Earle Reed, treated the town resident, Concerned Citizens wanted to try to let this person know that we had a videotape of the meeting in case she wanted a copy for some reason down the road. So, we did what we usually do...on July 11, 2008, we FOILed the "restricted delivery" letter that the town resident sent to Town Supervisor Earle Reed. On July 16, 2008 we received an email from the Town Clerk stating that she had received our FOIL request that day. Clearly against the FOI Law because a FOIL request sent electronically must be acknowledged the next day if it is sent after closing or the same day if it is sent during business hours. Anyway, that is another topic. The email received from the town clerk further said:

By copy of this e-mail, I am asking the Town Supervisor to deliver a copy of the requested letter [described below] to the Town Clerk's Office by Wednesday, July 23, 2008.

Gail Young

When we still didn't receive the letter by July 24th, we once again emailed the town clerk to find out why. This time we were told:

Supervisor Reed delivered the original letter to John Shaw, Police Commission Chairman, who is out of Town until August 2, 2008. I'm trying to contact other Police Commission members to see if they can provide the letter.

Gail Young

When August 1st rolled around and we still hadn't received either the letter or a response from the town clerk, we decided to visit the town clerk's office to find out why. The town clerk told us that it was her understanding that Supervisor Reed picked up the letter at the post office, and he never took it to his office, provided the town clerk with a copy, or left a copy with his secretary. After Supervisor Reed picked up the letter he just took it straight to the Chairman of the Police Commission. End of story...

The town clerk had no further information as to when we would receive the letter, so at that point, under FOI Law we are to able to consider the FOIL request was denied. The next step is to file a FOIL appeal to be discussed by the town board at the next town board meeting...which we did on August 11th...just in time for the August 13, 2008 town board meeting.

At the August 13th Town Board Meeting, the town clerk first informs the town board that the town attorney said to release the letter. She also stated that she called Robert Freeman, Executive Director for the Committee on Open Government and also sent him an email. Robert Freeman, according to the Town Clerk, said release the letter with the name of anyone involved whose name was not mentioned at the July 9th town board meeting redacted.

First of all, Town Supervisor Reed hands our FOIL appeal to Councilman Payne and says "this is for the stormwater committee". Apparently, even though we have been had to file several FOIL appeals with the town board due to reluctance of town personnel to release FOILable records, Supervisor Reed has no idea what is being presented to him.

First the town clerk says that the town attorney and Robert Freeman stated that the letter should be released to us. However, the town clerk later said that the Town Attorney, Gerald Green, and Police Chief Philo subsequently informed her that the letter was not to be released based on language in Civil Rights Law 50-a and she sent us an email to that effect.

Here is the part of the August 13th town board meeting where the town board discussed our FOIL appeal. You can see and hear for yourself how we objected because Civil Rights Law 50-a does not seem to apply to this case...we were not even thinking at that point that the person referred to in the letter from the resident was a police officer. The town board wanted to defer a decision until the next board meeting on Sept. 10th, but the town clerk informed the Town Board that under the FOI Law they must render a decision within 10 business days.

Key to this video is the fact that the Town Attorney and the Police Chief are citing Civil Rights Law 50-a and they say that an employee is involved. Civil Rights Law 50-a says:

S 50-a. Personnel records of police officers, firefighters and correction officers. 1. All personnel records, used to evaluate performance toward continued employment or promotion, under the control of any police agency or department of the state or any political subdivision thereof including authorities or agencies maintaining police forces of individuals defined as police officers in section 1.20 of the criminal procedure law and such personnel records under the control of a sheriff`s department or a department of correction of individuals employed as correction officers and such personnel records under the control of a paid fire department or force of individuals employed as firefighters or firefighter/paramedics shall be considered confidential and not subject to inspection or review without the express written consent of such police officer, firefighter, firefighter/paramedic or correction officer except as may be mandated by lawful court order.
We unfortunately had to change discs in our camera before the discussion was completely over, but if you attended this meeting you would have heard Town Supervisor Reed say about 3 times..."we won't be hearing from Deborah again." What that meant is we have no idea! Furthermore, the town wants us to believe that scanners are scarce in a town that spends money like it grows on trees!

Tomorrow...Part 3 - Special Board Meeting held on August 25, 2008 to address our FOIL appeal. Stay tuned...

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