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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

NY Web Records Site Sues Over Data

An Albany-based think tank is suing Kiryas Joel's public school district for ignoring a document request that 730 other districts fulfilled.

The Empire Center for New York State Policy claims Kiryas Joel never responded to six letters since March 31 asking for copies of the contracts for its superintendent and teachers union — the same information it sought from every other New York school district.

The center has since posted the contracts it got and other public records — including a database of salaries for all 263,000 state employees — on a Web site (seethroughny.net) that attracted so many viewers when it went online July 31 that it crashed.

Now, the center is taking legal action against the only three school districts that flouted its request: Kiryas Joel, Uniondale and Mount Markham. Those districts could be liable for the center's legal costs if found to have violated the state Freedom of Information Law.

Kiryas Joel Superintendent Joel Petlin says there's a simple reason he never supplied the records: his office moved on March 1, and he never got the Empire Center's letters.

He said he'd be happy to fulfill the request, although he has no teachers contract to provide. The staff of his tiny school system — which serves fewer than 250 special education students from the Hasidic community — are paid on a salary scale the administration has set, Petlin said.

Kiryas Joel's village government and public school have a shaky record of complying with the public records law. The Times Herald-Record asked both for copies of their payrolls — records that governments and school districts routinely provide — three times last year and got no response.

In addition, village officials have ignored five requests from the newspaper since December 2007 for copies of building permits, Planning Board minutes and code violations. Those records were sought after a mudslide occurred in a construction area.

More here.

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