ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — As Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains under fire for allegations of sexual harassment, and investigations continue, NEWS10 ABC has been working to obtain information on these issues through open government laws.
All of our requests have been acknowledged by records officers, who gave us dates detailing when we could expect to hear back. When those days rolled around, the requests got kicked back another month or so. The, requests dating back to early February, have yet to be fulfilled with the information we’re looking for.
NEWS10 filed three requests at the beginning of March as Governor Cuomo came under fire for allegations of sexual harassment.
One of our requests explained that we would like any documents relating to the completion of sexual harassment training by Governor Cuomo. this was filed on March 1. Two days later, the Governor publicly acknowledged the allegations against him in a press conference and said he had completed the annual sexual harassment prevention training his administration mandated for everyone employed in New York State.
Still, we did not receive supporting documents.
Some of the extension letters we’ve received in response to our requests explain that records that are only available in hard copy format could have limited availability for the time being.
A letter from a records access officer in the State’s Executive Chamber reads in part, “as part of the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some or all agency employees may be working off-site. As such, there may be delays in response to FOIL requests.”
We also made requests during the month of February regarding nursing home deaths, data related to vaccine appointments, as well as information about vaccine allocation to counties, all of which have received extensions for processing. The records office from the Department of Health said in response that a “diligent search for responsive documents was being conducted.”
NEWS10 ABC reached out to the state’s FOIL email address and the Governor’s office to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting their office’s ability to process these requests, and to find out how many they’re currently working on. We later received a response from the State. It reads, in part,
New York’s FOIL teams receive tens of thousands of FOIL requests each year and work diligently to provide timely responses to all requesters. In addition to delays stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, many requests often require a detailed review of hundreds, if not thousands, of pages of records.
The response went on to say the number of Chamber foils received to date “far outpaces” what would have been received at this same time a year ago. The State staffer provided the following data:
Statewide Totals – State agencies:
2021 (through 4/2/21):
Received: approximately 16,660
Closed: approx. 15,873
2021 (through 4/2/21):
We also heard from the Department of State Committee on Open Government, who said,
“While we cannot know the specifics of any agency’s analysis of the time it requires to provide a response to any FOIL request, we understand that many agencies have been operating with building restrictions and reduced staff and resources as a result of the pandemic. These restrictions and reductions may impact some of the factors an agency must consider when determining when it can reasonably respond to a FOIL request under the circumstances. With respect to the specific determination of what is a reasonable time to respond to a specific FOIL request, the Committee’s regulations require that “agency personnel shall consider the volume of a request, the ease or difficulty in locating, retrieving or generating records, the complexity of the request, the need to review records to determine the extent to which they must be disclosed, the number of requests received by the agency, and similar factors that bear on an agency’s ability to grant access to records promptly and within a reasonable time.” 21 NYCRR 1401.5(d).”Shoshanah Bewlay, Executive Director, Committee on Open Government