Monday, November 22, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg is a Master of Hiding Documents When it's in His Best Interests by Adam Lisberg - NY Daily News

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Mayor Bloomberg's lawyers lately have been sticking up for the right of New Yorkers to see the paperwork their government produces.
It's too bad they only do it when it helps their cause.
The Education Department on Friday told a judge that parents, the press and the public should be able to look at internal ratings for 12,000 teachers.
News organizations requested the data under the city's Freedom of Information Law, and the city was prepared to release it until the teachers union sued to keep it under wraps.
"Public employees generally lack an expectation of privacy in information concerning their performance of public functions," the city's lawyers wrote. "There is a strong public interest in disclosing the requested information."
It's a ringing sentiment, arguing that the public's right to know how teachers perform outweighs the teachers' fears about inaccurate data.
That came barely a month after the city Law Department sued the United States government in federal court, because the feds didn't respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from the city.
New York has long struggled to collect property taxes on other countries' buildings near the United Nations, so it asked the State Department to cough up data on any taxes it pays for properties abroad.
"Almost one year after its request, the city has received no substantive response from the State Department," the Law Department said.
It must have been a new and bracing feeling for city lawyers to write that - because when people ask the Bloomberg administration for paperwork that could be inconvenient, there's no telling when it comes out.
"When they believe it's in their best interests, they may disclose information relatively quickly," said Robert Freeman, head of the state Committee on Open Government.
Last year, for example, Bloomberg's lawyers waited until four months after his reelection to hand over photos of Sarah Palin with the mayor during a City Hall visit.
This year, critics of the so-called Ground Zero mosque requested any correspondence between Bloomberg's office and the landmarks commissioners who approved the plan. Four-and-a-half months later, they're still waiting.
"We were trying to uncover whether improper political pressure was placed on the Landmarks Commission," said lawyer Brett Joshpe. "The mayor's office has just flagrantly and blatantly ignored the request."
Bloomberg spokesman Jason Post replied, "We make every effort to answer FOIL requests promptly, but they are often delayed because of the time it takes to collect documents, determine their responsiveness and process them for disclosure."
Bloomberg made his fortune putting out financial data, and in many ways, he has done more than any of his predecessors to make city data accessible.
Anyone with a computer can pull up monthly figures from the city website on how quickly it fills potholes or fixes housing project elevators. And the city's tech team has put huge databases online for computer developers to explore.
It shouldn't be up to Bloomberg, though, to decide what information should be available online and what should take a months-long wait.
Perhaps his lawyers will understand that, now that they're arguing cases on the other side.