GIULIANI RECORDS DEAL STIRS CONTROVERSY
The public is entitled to view records from Rudolph Giuliani’s administration without the former mayor having a say in the process, New York state’s top Freedom of Information official said.
Robert Freeman, director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said in February that a controversial city agreement governing Giuliani’s records contains sections that are “inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Law and the interpretation of that statute,” The Associated Press reported.
The AP had asked Freeman to review the agreement and issue an advisory opinion.
Under terms of the agreement signed Dec. 24, just days before Giuliani left office, records related to his administration were handed over to the Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs, a new organization run by colleagues of the ex-mayor.
The agreement sparked controversy when it first was reported in January. It gives the former mayor the right to determine what documents can be made public, a provision Freeman found inconsistent with state law.
The agreement acknowledges that “the documents are the property of the city” and that “under the City Charter,” the Department of Records “is ultimately responsible for the preservation and organization” of these materials, according to the Village Voice. The Voice reported in January that the deal gives the records to a Giuliani entity so new that it has no board, no director, no site, and no identifiable archivist.
FOI ADVOCATES WORRY ABOUT CLOSED MEETINGS
A growing number of state lawmakers are closing doors to the public as they try to resolve the serious budget problems nearly all states face this year, and advocates for open government are worried by the trend.
Almost the entire Alaska House met privately for more than two hours Jan. 30 to talk about the state’s $1 billion deficit, according to The Associated Press.
Tennessee’s governor and legislative leaders met over two days in late January and came up with a list of budget proposals, but the lawmakers insisted they not be quoted.
In North Carolina, top legislative budget writers from both the state House and Senate met behind closed doors in January to discuss Gov. Mike Easley’s proposal to borrow from a Hurricane Floyd relief fund to cover a shortfall that could hit $900 million.
In New York, a wide-ranging measure to increase spending on health care that also raised taxes on cigarettes by 39 cents a pack was worked out in private meetings, which Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders attended.
But such steps have drawn complaints from open-government advocates, who say that even if the meetings are legal, they leave the people who elected the lawmakers out of the loop.
“They’re thinking, ‘It is much more efficient for us to close the doors and cut deals in smoke-filled rooms,’” said Charles Davis, co-chair of SPJ’s FOI Committee and head of the Freedom of Information Center at the Missouri School of Journalism. “I won’t argue with that fact. It certainly is more efficient. The problem is, it isn’t our form of government.”
In Alaska, House Speaker Brian Porter, a Republican from Anchorage, defended the decision to close the doors to the public.
“In my humble opinion, half of these people wouldn’t have said what they said if the cameras were there,” he said.
On the East Coast, a closed meeting held by the Calais (Maine) mayor and City Council across the border in Canada has raised questions of the application of Maine’s Freedom of Access Law.
Most of the council members told the Bangor Daily News that they believed Maine law did not apply because they held their meeting in a foreign country and were playing by that nation’s rules. But a Maine lawyer who specializes in First Amendment issues said elective bodies do not leave behind the laws they are sworn to uphold when they cross the border into another country.
When the Calais city clerk notified the media that council members planned to meet with their Canadian counterparts across the border in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Tom McLaughlin, news director of WQDY AM-FM in Calais, tried to attend the meeting. However, Calais Mayor Eric Hinson and St. Stephen Mayor Bob Brown turned him away.
The meeting was held to discuss a new international bridge, and no other issues were discussed, said Jim Porter, assistant city manager in Calais, who attended the closed session.