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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Observer Dispatch story leaves out a few things...

Record requests bog down town clerk's office...

The OD reporter seems to believe that our requests may be interfering with the day to day work in the town clerk's office. Really?

Roger Cleveland's emails were FOILed because we were told by the current Highway Superintendent numerous times that when Roger left, he wiped his computer clean. FOIL requests for specific information were answered by saying "no such documents exist".

Though, the new Highway Superintendent now waffles when asked by others whether or not he made that statement to us, he actually did, of his own volition, make a point of telling two members of Concerned Citizens shortly after he took office. In fact, recently, when Ms. Lawrence visited him in his office, he showed his desktop to Ms. Lawrence to prove that only a handful of Roger Cleveland's documents were still able to be accessed on his computer. At that time, Concerned Citizens provided current Highway Superintendent Rick Sherman documents that he didn't even know existed. Fortunately, the town IT person was able to retrieve the documents that Mr. Cleveland apparently didn't want made available after his retirement. Concerned Citizens made town officials aware that the documents were missing, but nothing was done about it. Without pressure from Concerned Citizens the town would have let it go and continue to tell residents "no such documents exist".

We went into our "archives" and found an email from the town clerk that should clarify the situation. Ms. Wolanin Young wrote to Mr. Wiatr on June 14, 2010 and said:
From: Young, Gail []
Sent: Monday, June 14, 2010 1:28 PM
Subject: FOIL - ALL e-Mails of Roger Cleveland
Mr. Wiatr,

Current Highway Supt Richard Sherman has found no e-mails of Roger Cleveland in his computer and stated, if there is a way to find them, he doesn't know how. I will have to contact the Town's IT person.

Gail Wolanin Young

Incidentally, shortly before Mr. Cleveland retired, we FOILed all his files on stormwater. The files were delivered to the town clerk's office in a couple of boxes and expanding folders. We were given carte blanche access to look through the files and request copies of anything we wanted. The town clerk didn't need to go through them first, so why the assertion now that she needs to review each email individually? Who is the town trying to protect? What could possibly be in Mr. Cleveland's emails that would qualify for redaction or refusal to disclose?

Chief Philo's emails were requested because our FOIL requests for specific emails were answered by the Town Clerk as unable to provide because Chief Philo's computer was password protected and nobody in town government knew how to access his data absent his password. According to the town clerk, that statement came directly from then acting Police Chief Timothy O'Neill. Now how was he supposed to carry on the duties of police chief if he did not have access to former Chief Philo's data?

Town policy states that upon termination of employment with the town, passwords are supposed to be given to the Personnel Director during the exit interview so how could it be that the town did not have the password needed to access information on Chief Philo's computer?

Joe Booth's emails were requested for a specific period in time as a result of our being contacted by a resident of another town. It is alleged that in April 2008 there was an altercation between Joe Booth and two private citizens. The private citizen wanted some information because he has been sitting on an arrest warrant that has never been satisfied. That's over two (2) years ago. By the way, according to the person asking for our help, though the New Hartford Police Dept. took a statement from Joe Booth and other town employees, they refused to allow the private citizen to make a statement to them even though he was the one sent to the hospital for injuries. It was later learned by Concerned Citizens that other altercations have taken place involving Mr. Booth and that is the reason that the security door was added to the main entrance to town offices at the Sanger building (also done without town board approval).

David Reynolds emails were requested because he seemed to be more involved with running the town than was Earle Reed; and some of Councilman Reynolds dealings are questionable at best. A lot of information has been gleaned from Councilman Reynold's emails. Rumor has it that Councilman Reynolds is livid that we FOILed his emails...he should be...some of them are damaging.

Personnel Technician Barb Aiello's emails were requested after we learned that in 2007, the town board hired a labor specialist to the tune of $6,000 without following the town procurement policy and absent a town board resolution to obtain the services.

The goal in hiring this labor specialist? According to Ms. Aiello's bring salaries and benefits of non-union employees comparable to those of employees covered under union contract. The town board for two years illegally met in Executive Session to discuss this and never once let those attending town board meetings know what was being done behind closed doors.

The new non-union handbook was adopted at the December 29, 2008 town board organizational meeting without anyone in the public being any the wiser. A review of the December 29, 2008 Town Board minutes show that the "official record of that meeting" does not even clearly allow the public to know that changes were made to the non-union employee benefits.

According to Robert Freeman, Executive Director of the Committee on Open Government:
From my perspective, every law, including the Open Meetings Law, must be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. Based on that presumption, I believe that minutes must be sufficiently descriptive to enable the public and others (i.e., future Town officials), upon their preparation and upon review perhaps years later, ascertain the nature of action taken by a public body, such as a town board.

I note that it has been held that a "bare bones" resolution referenced in minutes is inadequate to comply with the Open Meetings Law [see Mitzner v. Sobol, 570 NYS 2d 402, 173 AD 2d 1064 (1991)].
Policy matters, such as the manner in which public money will be expended or allocated, cannot be addressed in Executive Session. Several emails have been obtained that shows that the town board was working to specifically keep residents from being aware of the changes that were adopted to the non-union employee handbook. Now why would anyone be upset to learn that non-union employees are enjoying all the benefits of union employees?

And as for the Observer Dispatch reporter, the next time Concerned Citizens receives a phone call asking for something we may have and the reporter doesn't want to wait for the Town Clerk to respond to her FOIL request because the story needs to get out tomorrow...sorry, we don't have anything, you will need to FOIL it from the town!


member of concerned citizens said...

Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government repeatedly offered their volunteer services to streamline the town clerk's office thus making it a much more robust operation. CCHOG offered this at no cost to the town. CCHOG a couple of years ago while foiling the town clerk's maintenance records of the town's copying machine discovered that town offices (including the town clerk) had high tech copiers which had scanning capability. CCHOG had incurred approximately $600 for hard-copy records; when all along the town clerk's office had automated scanning features "built-in". Not one town clerk personnel knew of it's existence nor did they know how to operate this simple featue that has been around for several years.

Mrs. Young who has been the town clerk for over twenty-years plus prefers to run her office as if it were the 1950's. vs. Interestingly, Mrs. Young routinely attends Town Clerk conferences at town taxpayer expense. These conferences illustrate new and improved ways to organize and run town offices. Information Technology updates are routinely made available to attendees, however, it does appear that the New Hartford Town Clerk's office remains in the stone age when compared to the Town of Whitestown or the Town of Clay.

Mrs. Young has yet to substitute a typewriter with software technology when printing death/birth certificates. Why is this so hard to comprehend by the town clerk? Software technology can print a death/birth certificate in less than thirty seconds. Mrs. Young still prefers the use of a typewriter. Is this why the town clerk does not have enough time to do their foil requests? Let's call a spade a spade and put blame where it truly exists!

Mrs. Young too, complains that it will take "a year" to review former town highway supervisor Roger Cleveland's e-mails. However, once again, it does appear that our town clerk's skills sets lack much to desired skills in the area of the benefits of a class in Microsoft Outlook and the features that exist thus allowing e-mails to be gleaned in seconds vs. days or weeks.

Lastly, Mrs. Young takes pride in knowing that she has job security when foil requests for town board minutes are made. Instead of scanning the town board minutes as has been recommended over the years, Mrs. Young prefers to go off-site and obtain the town board minute books for use at a later date. However, what the town clerk has effectively waste our taxpayer dollars in her failure to electronically scan each and every town board minutes book thus preserving this valued information for years to come. Scanning reduces what previously was done in hours to nothing more than a few minutes.

Is streamlining so hard to understand within the Town of New Hartford, especially by our town clerk?

Anonymous said...

Two former employees try to prevent anyone from accessing their documents after they leave and the OD does a story on your FOIL requests like you are the problem???!!!

Anonymous said...

Look at the od article's author, dirty d herself! Her husband stands to be implicated, as well as her for actively distracting the public's attention from the actual corruption to safeguard her own family and friend's plan. Is it any surprise she would continue that misdirection here?!