In My Opinion

June 30, 2012

In My Opinion: Restricted hours only for large requests

This is to clarify certain issues that were raised in a recent Press-Republican editorial about the FOIL process.

To be clear, it is Town of Plattsburgh’s policy to allow anyone who wishes to FOIL information to do so during the hours that the Town Clerk’s Office is open. The town recognizes and respects the right of anyone to present a FOIL request; however, it also must take into consideration the rights of all its citizens.

First, the town is in possession of proprietary information (Social Security numbers, medical information, etc.) that is privileged information and may not be made available to the public. Therefore, when any request is made, before the information is turned over, it is essential that the information is reviewed to see if it contains any information that should not be released.

Second, we have an obligation to preserve town records. Not all of the records of the town are digitized. As a result, when requests are made to review numerous documents that are not in digital form, it is necessary to have a Town of Plattsburgh employee monitor the review of the records by the FOIL applicant.

Third, the law and opinions relating to the FOIL process must be read in conjunction with other laws. The rights associated with a person making a FOIL request do not trump the rights of other citizens seeking services from the town clerk.

The town clerk performs numerous services, including performing marriage ceremonies, issuance of licenses and permits and other related activities. The FOIL process is not meant to interfere with the normal functions of the town clerk.

As many of you may know, the town clerk’s position in the Town of Plattsburgh is part time and, as a result, often the town clerk is working alone. If he is involved in serving other citizens of the town, the individual with a FOIL request does not have the right to preempt the service being provided by the town clerk to another citizen.

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