Surprising revelations after Freedom of Information requests are denied - The Buffalo News
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Surprising revelations after Freedom of Information requests are denied

The Amherst town supervisor said he threw out his 2016 calendar before the opens records request was filed to see it.

The Lockport supervisor said he doesn't keep a written schedule.

And the Wheatfield supervisor said he wasn't tech-savvy enough to print the schedule he keeps on his cellphone, although he offered to let the open-records requester look at his phone.

Most of the 16 local governments responded promptly and provided the 2016 calendars and schedules of town supervisors and mayors that the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government requested in a Feb. 13 Freedom of Information Law request.

But the responses from several of the local governments astonished the coalition.

"Surprisingly one-third of the elected officials claimed they do not keep a schedule/calendar of their government-related activities, when a FOIL request was made for the information," according to a report released Wednesday by the coalition.

The five elected officials are Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein, Lewiston Town Supervisor Steve Broderick, Lockport Town Supervisor Mark Crocker, Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano and Wheatfield Supervisor Robert Cliffe.

"Citizens have a right under the Freedom of Information Law to know, what is my supervisor doing?" said Paul Wolf, president of the coalition and also chairman of Amherst's Open Government Committee.

Wolf blasted Weinstein's lack of a 2016 calendar in his remarks at a news conference Wednesday on the front steps of the Amherst Municipal Building.

"Either, No. 1, there isn't a lot going on, he's not that busy that he doesn't need a schedule, or No. 2, he simply does not want to provide it," Wolf said. "Either answer is unacceptable."

 

On Feb. 13, the coalition emailed requests to 16 local governments – eight in Erie County and eight in Niagara County – for each municipality's top elected official's 2016 schedule or calendar.

Local governments that provided 2016 schedules for free or a small fee included Erie and Niagara county governments, the cities of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Lockport as well as the towns of Cheektowaga, West Seneca, Hamburg, Tonawanda and Lancaster.

North Tonawanda charged a $106 fee to get a copy of Mayor Arthur G. Pappas' 2016 schedule. Deputy City Attorney Nicholas B. Robinson said it was 427 pages, with details on every event, such as its length and location. Efforts to email it failed because the file was too large.

Amherst said it was unable to provide the documentation.

Weinstein said by the time the coalition's request came in, he no longer had the 2016 calendar.

"It was tossed at the end of the year," Weinstein said.

He said he looked in the computer system and asked the town's information technology staffers to search for a schedule, but they found nothing.

Wolf said he asked for Weinstein's 2013 calendar in early 2014 and received it.

The law does not require government agencies to create – or re-create – documents in response to a request.

"2016 didn't exist at the time he asked for it," Weinstein said. "With a FOIL request, if it doesn't exist, you don't have anything to do."

"In this day and age, we don't keep that electronically?" Wolf responded.

"We keep a calendar. When he asked for the calendar in February, it no longer existed," Weinstein said.

He said he sees no value in keeping old calendars on file.

"I don't need that," Weinstein said. "If they want to find out, ask me for my calendar at the end of the year."

The town supervisors owe the public an accounting of their time, Wolf said.

 

"Although it's a part-time position, they claim they work 30 hours a week," Wolf said. "Why? Because then you earn a full-time pension. Part-time officials earning a full-time pension who don't keep a calendar of what they're doing, I just find that unacceptable."

Wolf had the same criticism for the Niagara County officials who didn't provide a schedule in response to the FOIL request.

Crocker, the Lockport supervisor, said he doesn't keep a written schedule.

"Any elected official sets his own hours and his own times according to the needs of what's happening that week," he said.

Cliffe, the Wheatfield supervisor, said he keeps a monthly calendar at his full-time private-sector job and throws it out at the end of the month. He told Wolf that some of the reminders were in his cellphone, but he wasn't tech-savvy enough to print it out. He offered to let Wolf look at his phone.

"After talking to my town attorney, he doesn't believe there's any responsibility to keep a calendar," Cliffe said. "If I did, then giving it up wouldn't be a problem. I'm told I don't have to create that. It is a town cellphone, the town does pay for it."

"I don't keep a time card. I don't punch a clock," said Broderick, the Lewiston town supervisor.

Collesano, the Village of Lewiston mayor, could not immediately be reached to comment.

"Every one of those individuals, when they ran for office, mentioned transparency in government as being important to them," Wolf said of the elected officials.

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