That’s the score of the Town of Brookhaven in the extraordinary investigation conducted by the Press Club of Long Island (PCLI) on compliance by 195 governments and government agencies on Long Island with the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
“We emailed our request in two parts to the town clerk. The clerk didn’t respond to our request for the board meeting minutes and agendas until we followed up after the five-day deadline lapsed, but replied to acknowledge the request for the other documents in two days. As a result, the town got a half point for its response time and lost another a half point because we had to follow up once,” stated the “Open Records Report Card” issued by PCLI. “It got points in the helpfulness category for sending its board meeting agendas, FOIL log and subpoena log that it’s not required to maintain as well as for having information on its website on how to file a FOIL request.”
FOIL, enacted in 1974, is the main state law seeking what these days is termed transparency” in government. It’s a state version of the U.S Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which was signed into law in 1966. Counties, cities, towns, villages, among other governmental entities are legally considered “creatures” of a state and must abide by the Freedom of Information statute in that state. The probe of how governments and government agencies on Long Island are following FOIL was conducted by journalist Tim Bolger, Freedom of Information chair for PCLI.
The average grade for Long Island governments and agencies was a C. Suffolk County government received a C+ in the investigation—thus Brookhaven Town did better than Suffolk.
Villages in Brookhaven Town constituted a varied picture.
Bellport, for example, scored very poorly: D-. “We emailed our request to the village twice, mailed a hardcopy and called before receiving a response after the deadlines, resulting in no points for response time,” said the “Open Records Report Card.”
Belle Terre got a D. “It lost a point for neither providing a written FOIL policy nor maintaining a subject matter listing,” said the report. Also, it “got no points because it charged $6 for copies of the village board meeting minutes that were on the village website.”
Mastic Beach, the village in Brookhaven Town that will be no more after residents voted to dissolve it, received an A-. “The village scored points for emailing its board meeting minutes, payroll list and subject matter listing. It lost a point for not providing a written FOIL policy. In the helpfulness category, the village got a point for its speedy reply.” There was a follow-up by PCLI asking for comments by all governments and government agencies rated. Mastic Beach Village Clerk/Administrator Susan Alevas, said: “Thank you for your … kind recognition of the village’s compliance with FOIL-related laws.”
Patchogue received a C. “The village lost a point for not maintaining a subject matter listing. It later billed us $8 and mailed paper copies of its FOIL log, getting a half point for emailing some documents and mailing others. It lost a half point because we had to follow up once to fulfill the request,” said the report card.
Port Jefferson got an F. “The village requested a clarification on the subject matter listing, which we provided, and said it would send the payroll later, but the 20-day deadline passed without an update, resulting in the village getting a half point for response time. Since we had to follow up four times for those documents without a response, the village was deducted a point. The lack of a response on the remaining documents was considered a denial of those requests, which we appealed, but the village never responded to our appeal, so it lost a point.” said the report. In her comments on the village’s failing grade, Mayor Margot Garant said: “We take great exception to your subjective grading system you designed for your FOIL project…
While we acknowledge that it was not complete, our initial compliance and the timing of the responses was well within the confines and spirit of the law.”
Shoreham got a C. “Since it sent some of the documents after the 20-day deadline, it got a half point for its response time. It lost a point because we had to follow up twice. It got a point in the helpfulness category for sending its board meeting agendas that it’s not required to maintain but got no points for not having information on its website on how to file a FOIL request.”
And Lake Grove got an F. “We twice emailed our request to the village, mailed a hardcopy and called twice without getting a reply. The village lost a point for its response time and another point because we had to follow up five times. Since the lack of a response constituted a denial, we filed an appeal, resulting in the loss of another point.”
On a personal note: I am very proud of this investigation by PCLI. In 1974, I led the founding of the press club, now one of the biggest chapters in the Society of Professional Journalists, and was its first president. I moved on this after reading an article about a reporter jailed for not divulging a source. I thought there was a need for the excellent journalists on Long Island to get together in the cause of freedom of the press and the media’s role to watchdog power. A sterling example of this is the FOIL investigation by PCLI.
Brookhaven Receives An A In PCLI Investigation