Where are the secret incorporation memos and what else is the Town of Greenburgh hiding?
What do the Greenburgh Town Board members do instead of responding to legal FOIL requests?
Stonewall, delay, talk in circles, act exasperated, give the silent treatment, look at their phones, or plead the fifth!
See this 3-minute video clip to understand how the Town Board brazenly thumbs its nose at transparency and open government practices. (Or click here for the entire session.)
More than four months since our first FOIL request, the Town held a second FOIL appeal hearing on our requests for documents provided to anti-incorporation supporters. We requested either 1) a certification from a Town representative, under oath, that we have received the complete set of non-privileged documents after a diligent search, or 2) a final decision of denial. Either one would allow the EIC to file a lawsuit, this time challenging the Town’s inadequate FOIL response.
One email (click here) indicates that Town officials supplied anti-incorporation leader Don Cannon—a private citizen—with information that he in turn used to 1) critique the Edgemont Incorporation Committee’s feasibility study; and 2) develop a list of “risks,” which he then disseminated to the public with the clear intent to influence potential voters.
Laws understandably protect communications from Town officials to other Town officials, or from government departments to other government departments. After all, municipalities would not be able to function if every conversation and e-mail were required to be made public. However, under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), communications between Town officials and private citizens (such as Mr. Cannon) do not enjoy such protections.
Just because Mr. Cannon (and any other vocal anti-incorporation proponents) are politically aligned with the Town, doesn't afford them Town employee status or privilege. And, of course, their communications don't enjoy the exemptions from our FOIL requests, nor should they enjoy exclusive access to Town communications that would be exempt from our FOIL requests.
With the goal of obtaining the mysteriously unavailable Cannon memos and other information, the EIC has made numerous FOIL requests (for an example, click here). The Town has been less than cooperative, and the timing of the minimal information we have received is curious.
For example, the Town provided us with these emails (click here), which are potentially damaging to the Town’s defense of its rejection of the petition. But the EIC received them only shortly after the EIC filed the Article 78 lawsuit challenging Feiner’s decision.
Similarly, see Town Attorney Tim Lewis trying to justify his delay in releasing to us the FOIL'ed documents for one of the petition hearings (click here for a short clip). Mr. Lewis apparently believes that providing FOIL’ed documents is a “courtesy.”
It goes without saying that private citizens may be for, against, undecided, or completely ambivalent about Edgemont’s potential incorporation as a village. But the same is not true for Town of Greenburgh employees acting in their official capacity.
In fact, the State Comptroller is clear on this issue (click here). Perhaps the most relevant excerpt is: “It would be establishing a dangerous and untenable precedent to permit the government or any agency thereof, to use public funds to disseminate propaganda in favor of or against any issue or candidate. This may be done by totalitarian, dictatorial, or autocratic governments but cannot be tolerated, directly or indirectly, in these democratic United States of America.”
Apparently, the Town of Greenburgh is either unaware or dismissive of these restrictions. Particularly troubling is the fact that the Town has inappropriately used its resources to support the anti-incorporation political campaign, an action they are expressly forbidden by law to take. All while the Town is avoiding our legal right to information.
Their strategy is to hope no one pays close attention; trust in the fact that no one wants their jobs; set aside ample legal budget for the inevitable lawsuits, and try to outlast anyone who calls them on their behavior.
We will keep you posted.