Huntington Town Hall is in Violation of the Freedom of Information Law
By failing to comply with this very specific law, our Town leaders are leaving all Huntingtonians vulnerable to having our hard earned tax dollars wasted on costly lawsuits.
It is common practice in Town Hall to make public documents unavailable to citizens of the town of Huntington. If documents were readily available, town residents might be very surprised by some of the practices of our Town Government. Every Government agency must appoint one or more persons as records access officer. The records access officer has the duty of coordinating an agency’s response to public requests for records. AJ Carter is the records access officer for Huntington Town Hall. If you ask anyone who regularly submits FOIL request to Town Hall, you will find that this very simple, easy to follow request, becomes a game of wac-a-mole. You will often hear back and forth banter between people who are trying to create an open government, like “you could FOIL it, but your not going to get anywhere”, or something like, “you are going to FOIL Town Hall, oh good luck with that”, or “it’s an election year, they won’t tell you anything”. The Huntington Housing Authority and the Community Development Agency are other agencies that are very difficult to obtain information from.
If you visit the Town Clerks office, Supervised by Town Clerk Joann Raia, you will find a very different story. Joann Raia and her staff make every reasonable effort, at the time of the original request, to have a person leave with their requested information in hand. If it is something complicated, they will let you know why they can’t get it to you right away, and when you can expect it. It is usually never more than a few days. If it were not for the impeccable record keeping of the Town Clerks office under the Supervision of Joann Raia, we shutter to think how difficult it would be to have an open government in the town of Huntington. Joann Raia is one of the best arguments we can think of against term limits.
The Huntingtonian has submitted many FOIL requests to AJ Carter in Town Hall. To date, we have not received any information. Some of the FOIL requests were not even acknowledged. This is a violation of the law. On other FOIL requests, we received a response that it would be 20 business days, which conveniently takes us past the Town Council elections. It is in violation of the law to take 20 business days to comply with a FOIL request that is, or should be, readily available.
Here is one example of a FOIL request that has not been answered.
Huntingtonian FOIL request sent via e-mail to AJ Carter:
How much money was used for the purchase and improvements of 1264 -1268 New York Avenue from the Community Development Block Grant Funds? What was the total price paid to acquire the property? How many apartments are located in the property? How many bedrooms are in each apartment? What agency collects the rent?
Two Days later we received this response from AJ Carter:
I see that you have posted an article on the Huntingtonian and no longer need this information.
We immediately responded:
If you read the article, you will see that the information we have requested was not included in the article. Approximately, when can we expect to receive this information?
We received no response or acknowledgement of any kind for one week, so we decided to pay a visit to Town Hall on October 5, 2011. We submitted the request directly to Doug Aloise, who is the Director of the CDA. He informed us that the original FOIL request was forwarded to him and he submitted the response to AJ Carter. He declined to verbally inform us of the information, but said he would walk the request down to AJ Carter immediately. We informed Doug that we did not expect to wait more than a few days, as the information was readily available and required no research to answer.
A few hours later we received this response via e-mail from AJ Carter:
In response to your request, which was not filed as a FOIL, we are compiling the information and will provide it to you as soon as it is available. I estimate this could take up to 15 business days.
We responded immediately with the following:
We will take any part of it that is ready. We were told that you have already been given the information. What part of the FOIL will take 15 days to obtain and why?
Our next step is going to be to submit our unanswered FOIL requests directly to Susan Berland and Glenda Jackson, who are both up for re-election in November. They both claim to be in favor of open government, so lets see if they can help us obtain accurate information. We at the Huntingtonian intend to continue to be careful not to present our readers with any “misinformation” and therefore getting accurate answers to our questions is vital.