Cuomo’s Office Tightly Controls Public Records

ALBANY (AP) -

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office four years ago promising the most transparent administration in history, but journalists and advocacy groups say his office tightly controls requests for public records on anything controversial and routinely delays or denies their release.

For decades, responding to requests under New York’s Freedom of Information Law was the responsibility of individual state agencies. Current and former state officials say that began to change a year into Cuomo’s administration, and now such requests are often routed through the governor’s legal counsel.

Travis Proulx, former communications director for the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said the shift was a reaction to an embarrassing story — a 2011 New York Times series on abuse of the disabled in state care that was based largely on public records.

“The agency FOILs records officer became a phone operator, not the point person,” Proulx said. “All the process was taken out of their hands and their judgment and placed with the second floor,” he said referring to the governor’s offices on the second floor of the Capitol in Albany.

Since the change, FOIL officers immediately notify higher-ups in their agency as well as the governor’s office to flag any information requests that “might not come across as favorable to the administration,” Proulx said.

Several current state officials backed up that account but declined to discuss it because they weren’t authorized to do so and feared punishment if they did.

Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said in a statement that state agencies do process information requests, “at times conferring” with the governor’s staff “to ensure consistent and thorough responses.”

Under the law, all government records, unless specifically exempted, are public and should be made available within five business days. Written reasons for delays are due within 20 business days, as well as setting a date “within a reasonable period” to provide an answer.

Ken Tingley, editor of The Post-Star in Glens Falls and president of the New York State Associated Press Association, said such treatment from the state goes beyond FOILs to basic questions on breaking news stories, such as the investigation of a major gasoline leak in Hudson Falls.

“We’ve seen it in more subtle ways,” he said, “like no one ever calling you back.”