We’re not sure what significance there is to the emails between Sam Hoyt and Steve Pigeon. The exchanges – so far, at least – show only that Hoyt, who works for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, forwarded publicly available job postings to Pigeon, a political operative charged in a corruption case.
It seems innocuous enough – nothing more than an effort to woo local party leaders who might like to put favored individuals into state jobs. It may be cheesy, but its patronage 101.
But if that’s the case, why did it take Empire State Development a year to comply with a Freedom of Information Law request for the documents? And why, when it finally did respond, did ESD send only a portion of the requested information? That looks like the opposite of innocuous – more like someone with something to hide.
The Buffalo News filed the FOIL request in July 2016, asking for all records about or between Pigeon and officials at the state economic development agency. Hoyt is Cuomo’s point man for economic development in Western New York.
The response came a year to the day after the request was filed, and then only after the News’ general counsel, Joseph T. Giglia II, called ESD leaders on their unreasonable delay. The agency’s claim in previous letters that it needed more time to look for the records amounts to a “constructive denial,” Giglia wrote to agency officials.
If that delay amounted to something less fishy than strategic foot-dragging, then agency officials need to explain why. Did they not know where the emails were? Are the people in charge of fulfilling FOIL requests incompetent? Does the office not understand the public value of the Freedom of Information Law?
It’s either something along those lines or the agency, for reasons that remain unclear, didn’t want the public to see those emails and other documents. And, given the ho-hum nature of those it finally released, it’s hard not to wonder what is contained in the documents it is continues to withhold. More than that, with Pigeon still facing state corruption charges, the delays seem downright suspicious.
This isn’t the way to do the public’s business. State officials have a duty to ensure that the laws, including the Freedom of Information Law, are faithfully executed. Obstructing the delivery of information for a year, and even then complying only partially, doesn’t qualify.
Count this ongoing episode as further evidence of the need for New York to shore up its Freedom of Information Law. In a more serious state, someone would pay a price for this delay.