New York City Council answers first of several FOIL requests regarding Small Business Jobs Survival Act

The City Council's first FOIL response pertains to documents and correspondence in respect of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

By LOUIS FLORES

Updated 06 October 2016 09:10 ⎪ The New York City Council has provided a first response to several requests filed by Progress Queens under the State's Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.

The FOIL requests pertained to documents and correspondence regarding draft legislation known as the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, or SBJSA.

The first response of documents corresponded with the FOIL request submitted by Progress Queens in respect of documents and correspondence for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem).

The records were provided in three .PDF files with several redactions applied without indication about the corresponding exemption claimed under FOIL that would justify the redactions. Furthermore, the first response did not itemize the documents relative to the multi-part categories of documents identified in the corresponding FOIL request.

An initial review of the documents showed that redactions were sometimes applied to the e-mail addresses of individuals sending correspondence to public officials. Other times, redactions were applied to internal communication between public officials.

Another seven (7) FOIL requests remain outstanding for members or employees of the City Council. Records for a related FOIL request sent to Borough President Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) have not yet been produced, and a related FOIL sent to the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) has yet to produce documents.

Small businesses owners and Government reform activists have been seeking passage of the SBJSA to secure rent protections for small businesses. However, elected officials in recent years have resisted calls for a public hearing and a vote on the proposed legislation. In the City Council, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito reportedly controls which legislation is allowed to come up for a vote.

An e-mail from the journalist Lincoln Anderson was received and forwarded by public officials. Mr. Anderson requested information about the possibility that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) would scheduling a hearing on the SBJSA. However, the City Council's first FOIL response did not include documents that showed whether Mr. Anderson's e-mail was ever answered. All internal discussion by public officials was redacted. Source : New York City Council/Public Domain

An e-mail from the journalist Lincoln Anderson was received and forwarded by public officials. Mr. Anderson requested information about the possibility that Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem) would scheduling a hearing on the SBJSA. However, the City Council's first FOIL response did not include documents that showed whether Mr. Anderson's e-mail was ever answered. All internal discussion by public officials was redacted. Source : New York City Council/Public Domain

The documents show that even though New York City Councilmembers received numerous e-mails from small business owners and activists in support of the SBJSA, Councilmembers never appeared to respond to the requests for legislative support, according to the records in the first FOIL response.

Lincoln Anderson, the Editor-in-Chief of The Villager, sent an e-mail on 14 March 2016, asking whether Council Speaker Mark-Viverito would be scheduling a hearing for the SBJSA. The FOIL response showed that that e-mail request was circulated internally without an apparent response to Mr. Anderson. The internal communication exchanged by public officials was entirely redacted from the FOIL response.

In June, the City Council passed legislation that would offer small businesses protection from harassment from their landlords, but that bill stopped short of offering the kinds of protections contemplated by the SBJSA, as noted in a report filed by the journalist Camille Bautista for DNAinfo New York.

The administration of Mayor de Blasio is under scrutiny due to multiple Federal, State, and Municipal investigations into allegations of corruption. As a consequence of the heightened scrutiny, City agencies have scaled back on transparency about the Government's business. A lawsuit was filed last month by the corporate parents of the cable news channel NY1 and the tabloid daily The New York Post to compel the de Blasio administration to release e-mails exchanged between City Hall and political consultants described as "agents of the city."

The lack of Government transparency has attracted the attention of Federal prosecutors.

When U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara appeared before the short-lived Moreland Commission, a corruption-fighting panel of investigators with subpoena power, he noted, in relevant part, that, "[T]here is a substantial transparency problem throughout New York government," according to prepared remarks attributed to him and published on the Web site of the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district.

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