By Margot Garant
I am writing in response to statements made by Reclaim New York in a recent article in the Port Times Record (“Report: Long Island public agencies fail to comply with FOIL requests,” May 18). Reclaim New York, the self-anointed guardians of public transparency, claim the Village of Port Jefferson ignored “the appeals and our phone calls” to release public records on vendor information and purchase orders. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We accepted Reclaim’s request in March. It was not a simple inquiry for documents, but a blatant transparency test sent to every government agency on Long Island. They requested every single vendor, its address, payment listing, check numbers, banking routing numbers, etc. The village treasurer did contact Reclaim staff on two occasions and asked for clarification on their blanket request to help them tailor a more focused request which would better meet their needs. Reclaim’s representative never attempted to work with the treasurer to fine-tune the request. Several village employees have spent significant time away from their duties in order to gather these records. So far, approximately 4,500 pages of documents have been identified and are in electronic format and the work goes on. Other municipalities have provided thin responses to Reclaim’s request for vendor records. Is our village to be punished because it strives to provide comprehensive responses to records requests? Would it have been better to provide a quicker response with fewer records and missing documents just to be able to say we responded? I think this would defeat the very purpose of public transparency.
Contrary to how they misled our local newspaper, Reclaim did not reach out to us to check the status of their records request after it was accepted, nor have they ever submitted the legally required appeal challenging the timing of our response. Had Reclaim simply picked up a phone or emailed me or the village clerk, they would have learned that we have been working on a detailed and comprehensive response to their request, more accurate and more complete than what many other municipalities have provided. This was an agenda-driven fishing expedition and it is unfair to criticize our village as part of their statewide campaign.
As the mayor, I have always pushed for increased transparency on the village budget and public records. Our record on this issue is unmatched. We should not be punished for providing more transparency. I ask that in the future, Reclaim reach out to us before they attack our village in the press and on social media.
Margot Garant is the mayor of Port Jefferson Village.