The Government Justice Center filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC Health) with the New York State Supreme Court in effort to reveal information pertaining to a controversial decision on distribution of COVID oral antivirals.
The escalation of this FOIL request serves as a stark reminder of New York’s poor track record with meeting its own transparency requirements. Though this particular case is against a city agency, it is merely a symptom of statewide systemic malpractice.
Through its attempts to delay responding to the submitted FOIL, NYC Health accidentally disclosed New York State’s FOIL-response protocol.
NYC Health, asked over eight months ago for information supporting its advisory prioritizing certain racial groups over others in the distribution of COVID oral antivirals, revealed that it sends “standard acknowledgments” to all FOIL requests, essentially shelving its duty to provide prompt access to open government to all New Yorkers.
In its initial acknowledgment of GJC’s request, 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.”
It is clear that such behavior—preceded by over nine months of obfuscation and delay—is a bad-faith attempt to deny the FOIL request.
GJC finally won an administrative appeal, and NYC Health initially promised a response no later than August 31. But that deadline has come and gone, as has an additional deadline of September 9. Now the agency indicates that records may be released by September 30.
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. This constant pattern of missed deadlines, secrecy, and tagging requests for special bad treatment must be stopped.