Albany, NY — The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health) concealed pertinent COVID-19 related records, forcing the Government Justice Center to sue in order to make this information available to the public.
In its first response, NYC Health revealed that it sends “standard acknowledgments” to all FOIL requests, shirking its duty to provide prompt access to open government to all New Yorkers. There have since been four delays.
The Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, submitted by GJC more than eight months ago, requested details supporting a health advisory prioritizing certain racial groups over others in the distribution of COVID oral antivirals. In its initial acknowledgment, NYC Health included a message from a staff member that read: “Wow- 19 item request. Please send the standard acknowledgement and put on the sensitive list. Thanks.”
“The fact that a ‘sensitive list’ and a ‘standard acknowledgment’ even exist highlights the problems with the status quo—which transcends our original request and cuts to the core of the problem with government transparency in New York,” said Cam Macdonald, executive director and general counsel at the Government Justice Center. “This constant pattern of missed deadlines, secrecy, and tagging requests for special bad treatment must be stopped.”
NYC Health at first denied the request as not reasonably describing the records requested in July. An administrative appeal was then granted, and NYC Health was directed to disclose records by August 31. After failing to meet that deadline, the agency now indicates that records may be released by September 30.
“The escalation of this FOIL request to the court serves as a stark reminder of New York’s poor track record with meeting its own transparency requirements,” Macdonald concluded. “Such behavior—preceding almost nine months of obfuscation and delay—is a bad-faith attempt to deny the FOIL request.”
The Government Justice Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit legal center that provides pro-bono representation and legal services to protect the rights of New Yorkers in the face of improper action by state or local governments. Taxpayers can request the GJC’s assistance here.