Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he’s not micromanaging his image by having his lawyers review all public information requests that could “reflect directly on the mayor.”
The mayor also said he didn’t know who issued a May 5 email obtained by The Associated Press that instructed attorneys at city agencies to forward a wide range of records, including potentially sensitive or controversial documents, to his lawyers.
That broad mandate to review public information could give de Blasio’s office control over virtually all newsworthy requests from journalists, watchdog groups or members of the public made under the Freedom of Information Law.
“What we’re trying to do is have a single standard to make sure that agencies won’t unnecessarily remove information that could be provided publicly and don’t act too slowly to respond to the request,” de Blasio said. “We obviously believe in the Freedom of Information Law and we want it applied consistently and we don’t want a situation in which some agencies are taking it seriously and some agencies are not.”
Although the ramifications of the policy are not yet clear, transparency advocates fear such control could lead to prolonged delays in responding to records requests, a criticism both President Barack Obama and Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced when they instituted similar policies.
De Blasio promised to run the most transparent administration in city history and in his previous job as public advocate, he called for reforms to the public records process to make it more transparent.
John Kaehny, director of the nonprofit Reinvent Albany and a co-chair of the New York City Transparency Working Group, said a concern with the policy would be “if City Hall orders the delay or partial release or in any way impedes anything but a full and robust response.”
The directive is just the latest in a series of efforts to control access and information that started the first day de Blasio took office — when the Democrat initially barred media from attending his midnight swearing-in ceremony. In his first five months in office, more than 20 percent of the mayor’s listed public events were closed to the media. And earlier this year, the New York Press Club denounced his practice of refusing to answer “off-topic” questions during news conferences and for herding protesters into roped-off “free-speech zones.”