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Aug 10, 2016 9:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton School District Provides Information Sought In Lawsuit

Reclaim New York Executive Director Brandon Muir announced a lawsuit against the Southampton School District on August 3. GREG WEHNER
Aug 10, 2016 9:46 AM

The Southampton School District satisfied a request for data from Reclaim New York on Tuesday, almost a week after the organization filed a lawsuit arguing that the district was not complying with the Freedom of Information Law.

This week the district provided Reclaim New York with check numbers it had refused to release as part of a request seeking an electronic copy of spending records for the 2014 fiscal year, including copies of all payments to vendors. Reclaim New York, a nonprofit that works for transparency in government, had submitted FOIL requests to every school district, town and village on Long Island earlier this year, and Southampton was among a handful of school districts that at first declined to provide the information.

In her response to Reclaim New York, Amy Pierson, the school district’s records access officer, said the check numbers had not been provided because district officials had been advised that releasing them the could pose a security risk.

“Although we are not required to disclose check numbers, we have since determined that we will be able to minimize security risk, and the records are now enclosed with the check numbers,” Ms. Pierson said in an email to Reclaim New York.

That was not enough for Reclaim New York to drop the lawsuit, however. In fact, officials at the organization said they saw the effort as an attempt to “make the bad press and lawsuit go away.”

“Sadly, they also doubled down on their unfounded claim that they do not have to include check numbers when releasing these public documents,” said Douglas Kellogg, communications director at Reclaim New York, this week.

The organization had filed the lawsuit on August 3 against the school district, saying the district appeared not to understand the concept of “public business.” Under FOIL, a district’s fiscal records are generally considered public information.

The initial FOIL request was denied in March, with the district claiming it was not required to create a record that did not currently exist, or to reprogram or develop new programs to retrieve the information. Reclaim New York appealed the denial, saying that other districts were granting the requests by providing one of four common types of electronic vendor reports—information that did not require any special programing. Reclaim New York also asked for an explanation if the appeal was denied.

District officials responded by saying a report with all he requested data fields did not exist, adding that they feared that releasing check numbers could lead to “unauthorized and perhaps legal activity.” Ultimately it did provide the information, but without the check numbers it ultimately provided this week.

“As always, the Southampton School District administration and Board of Education believe that transparency is paramount regarding any issue that affects our students, staff and community members,” district officials said in a prepared statement on Friday.

“We will continue to be transparent with our community via appropriate messaging/notification when necessary and within our legal rights,” the statement continued.

Mr. Kellogg maintained, however, that his organization thinks the district needs to do better.

“Every Southampton resident needs to know their school district is still clinging to excuses, rather than turning over a new leaf and becoming more transparent,” he said. “Until Southampton School District demonstrates better understanding of the state’s transparency law, we expect citizens requesting public records from the district will face the same excuses and stonewalling tactics.

“That means people will be forced to dedicate time, file appeals and to ultimately pay thousands of dollars in legal fees just to get answers they are guaranteed under the law,” he added, noting that the organization still plans to pursue the lawsuit.

“They know their latest excuse for denying citizens access to public records will be exposed as a violation of state law if argued in court,” he said of district officials.

Asked about the lawsuit this week, Interim Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Dyno said, “The district does not comment on pending litigation.”

On Tuesday district officials also answered a FOIL request from The Southampton Press seeking the same information.

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Following
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on Aug 10, 16 2:12 PM
Is this in reference to the Superintendent or whatever who suddenly left no one knows why?
By Rich Morey (351), East Hampton on Aug 10, 16 2:59 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By SlimeAlive (1180), Southampton on Aug 11, 16 6:21 AM
Was this to appease the suit? Did they give the info that asked for? Or a appeasement?
Sounds like a 3 out of 10...
By knitter (1656), Southampton on Aug 12, 16 6:36 PM
did you intend to come on here with zero information and sound ignorant?
By even flow (811), East Hampton on Aug 13, 16 4:58 PM
Who is funding Reclaim New York? What is their goal?
By Hampton Bays (13), hampton bays on Aug 14, 16 2:18 AM
From their website "Reclaim New York is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a state-wide, grassroots conversation about the future of New York, its economy, and its people." One of their major issues is government transparency, and the FOIL requests fit under this theme.

"The New York Transparency project is an unprecedented effort to demand that every government expenditure is made public. Using the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Reclaim New ...more
By SH_Res (342), Southampton on Aug 14, 16 9:51 AM
Reclaim NY was founded by Stephen Bannon and is funded by the Mercer family plutocrats. https://www.reclaimnewyork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2015-IRS-990-Filing.pdf
By LIRoses (4), East End on Jul 2, 17 8:31 AM
Can we find out how Scott Farina spent his $300,000 that the school board gave him for doing such a great job? If we found out how the iranians spent the ransom, it would seem like we could find out how Farina spent his ransom.
By even flow (811), East Hampton on Aug 14, 16 5:37 AM
Amazing that these clowns who work for us taxpayers refuse to tell us how they spend our money. Government at it's best. Hillary and the Democrats want to expand government and make larger it and more powerful. What are people thinking wanting to vote that party into office?
By BillWillConn3 (174), Southampton on Aug 14, 16 10:29 AM