NYS cites COVID as contributor for ongoing delay in FOIL responses

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — NEWS10 ABC continues working to obtain information on issues impacting New Yorkers through open government laws. FOIL requests continue to be kicked back, with responses from state agencies often citing COVID-19 as being a potential factor slowing down the process.

One request in particular filed on March 1 by NEWS10 reads:

“I am reaching out to inquire about records relating to New York State’s law requiring sexual harassment training. I would like to know the date of the last time Governor Cuomo completed sexual harassment training. I would like to see the materials that were used for the most recent training he completed. I would like any documents relating to the completion of sexual harassment training by Governor Cuomo during his time as Governor of NYS.”

March 1, 2021 FOIL request by NEWS10 ABC

Three letters have come from the Executive Chamber since then. The first acknowledged receipt of the request. The two that followed were both advisories that an extension was needed to complete the request. The second two letters, about a month apart from each other, both included this paragraph:

“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. If a record responsive to a request is only available in hard-copy format, that record’s availability will be limited until further notice. Thank you for your patience during this extraordinary time.”

Jaclyn Clemmer, FOIL Counsel & Records Access Officer

NEWS10 forwarded these letters to the Committee on Open Government (COOG), the State’s freedom of information oversight group for insight on this.

According to COOG, no court has challenged whether the rationale of “COVID difficulties” fairly aligns with the committee on open government’s regulations. After reviewing the letters, they “believe that a court would find that that the proffered reason does align with the regulatory factors and is sufficient to support a delay.”

We reached out to the State for comment on the delays in FOIL closures. The response read, 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.”

From January 1 to April 30, 2021, the Executive Chamber alone has received 335 requests through April 30. The number of Chamber foils received to date far outpaces what would have been received at this same time a year ago, according to the State. Of those, 211 have been closed, but NEWS10’s request for information regarding the governor’s sexual harassment training is not among them.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Empire State Weekly

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