Skip to main content

As Sunshine Week continues, questions about Cuomo administration's responsiveness (and what about my 2010 FOIL requests?)

It's Sunshine Week, a national initiative organized by press groups (and allies) to spotlight open government, but sunshine regarding New York State government--notably, Empire State Development ESD)--seems to be lacking.

I've been waiting 18 months for a response to a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request from ESD, as I'll describe further below.

And journalists from much larger organizations, and even lawmakers, have been stymied, according to a 3/10/12 Albany Times-Union article headlined Delay hurts public access: Cuomo administration offers a mixed record in release of information to New Yorkers.

Jimmy Vielkind reported:
He boasts of running an administration that is "the most transparent and accountable in history," but Gov. Andrew Cuomo's response record to Freedom of Information Law requests contains several blemishes.
It took six months for journalists from the Associated Press to see a complete list of questions Cuomo was asked in an online chat on his new "Citizen Connects" website. Eleven months passed before the appointment calendars of senior administration officials, showing whom they met with as the 2011 state budget was crafted, were turned over.
Another request for schedule records, from Cuomo's tenure as attorney general, was only partially fulfilled and then closed, without notice, before the downstate Democrat assumed the governorship. The requested records were discarded.
It's not just journalists who have been kept waiting: Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat who chairs the chamber's Energy Committee, waited more than four months for information from state agencies about a proposed power line.
Governor's response

Josh Vlasto, the governor's spokesman, said the executive chamber is up to date on all FOIL requests. And Robert Freeman, director of New York's Committee on Open Government, acknowledges that both more information is freely available, and tight staffing burdens agencies:
Freeman suggested people faced with silence should appeal their requests. Courts have the power to enforce the law, and even force the state to reimburse a requester for legal fees.
My pending requests: Development Agreement and EB-5 trip

I may have to appeal the seeming denial of two long-pending requests.

I get a version of the letter at right every month: it indicates that ESD "continues to conduct this review with its limited resources while simultaneously processing a large volume of FOIL requests, including several of broad scope."

What am I asking for?

Well, the 9/16/10 request, which might be considered fairly broad, sought several documents regarding the Atlantic Yards Development Agreement.

The 10/5/10 request, however, was more narrow, regarding Executive Director Peter Davidson's planned trip to China on behalf of the New York City Regional Center's effort, under the EB-5 visa program, to market an investment in Atlantic Yards that would bring Forest City Ratner a $249 million low-interest loan.

I sought records to explain:
  • the cost and itinerary of the trip
  • what Mr. Davidson is expected to do (outline of remarks, etc)
  • the solicitation for and decision to make the trip
  • any evaluation on ESDC's part of the job numbers used by NYCRC
As I later learned, and wrote 12/8/10, Davidson (left in photo) made at least one misleading speech, telling potential Chinese investors that Atlantic Yards "will be the largest job-creating project in New York City in the last 20 years.”

Davidson last November left for a post at the Port Authority.

Either ESD has the records or it doesn't. There's no reason to be sitting on them.

Continuity issues

Sure, these requests originated when the state agency was under the Paterson administration. But the Cuomo administration has essentially the same posture toward Atlantic Yards.

And it thus seems just as reluctant to release information that might cause some raised eyebrows.

Another Sunshine Week issue: where are the documents?

Freeman, director of New York's Committee on Open Government, wrote in a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle op-ed today that government agencies disserve the public by holding meetings to discuss documents that have not been made public:
Since the state’s Open Meetings Law went into effect in 1977, we have had countless complaints and comments from citizens who attend meetings of government bodies, people who want to be involved, but who cannot effectively understand or follow a discussion. When members of a government body have a document in their hands and refer to the second paragraph on page 3, but the document has never been disclosed, the discussion may not provide the ability to know what the members are considering, even though the public can be present. Sometimes there is no intent to shield information from the public, but it seems in too many instances that an intangible shield serves as a means of keeping the public in the dark.
A new provision, effective Feb. 2, focuses on two categories of records that are “scheduled to be the subject of discussion” during an open meeting. The first involves records that are available under FOIL, and the second pertains to records that may technically be withheld under that law, so-called “intra-agency materials” that consist of recommendations — proposed resolutions, laws, rules, regulations or policies. In both instances, government bodies are generally required by the amendment to make those records available in response to a FOIL request or on its website prior to the meeting during which they will be discussed. Very simply, the records that may be most important to residents, those that indicate what the government is planning to do, should be disclosed, within reasonable limitations, before meetings.
For example, in a December 2010 meeting of the Empire State Development Corporation to approve new Atlantic Yards documents, members of the public were invited to comment before the documents were made available for evaluation.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.