Transparency lacking in Suffolk

Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By Chris Dove

Suffolk City Council members have consistently stated they want an open and transparent government. What we see is they continually permit and encourage a closed or translucent one. Let me relate a recent experience with the City to illustrate my point.

Some of you may have seen the article in this paper about the draft SPSA solid waste agreement. The SPSA director denied this paper’s Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the draft agreement, stating the agreement was a working paper and therefore exempt from FOIA requests.

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I recognized this as a fraudulent attempt to deny records. FOIA does not list the SPSA board’s papers as exempt from public access. I use the term “fraudulent,” since the SPSA director is required by law to be provided a copy of the FOIA to “read and become familiar with.”

I asked to inspect or receive an electronic copy of the draft agreement the city had received from SPSA. The city denied my request, stating the record was exempt, since it “related to the negotiation and award of a specific contract.” The city ignored the part of a law that states records relating to contracts are only exempt if “such records would adversely affect the bargaining position or negotiating strategy of the public body.”

I asked the city to explain how the release of a record already in the possession of all parties involved in the negotiations could adversely affect the City’s position or strategy. They replied that they had already responded to my request and that was all they were required to do. Not satisfied, I reiterated my request for an explanation.

This time the city responded that the record I requested — “a copy of the SPSA draft solid waste agreement that Suffolk had received from SPSA” — was not in the custody of the city but was in the custody of the SPSA board. I asked City Council during a council meeting how this could be, since they had just discussed the draft agreement during the closed session a few minutes before. As usual, council’s response was none at all.

I called another local government associated with SPSA and requested an electronic copy of the SPSA draft solid waste agreement. The other government’s response was, “Sure how do you want it?” Five minutes later I had a copy in my email inbox.

No false claims, no word games, no bull manure.

I was honestly shocked to find a local government that actually adhered to the state law. I was pleased someone actually read and adhered to the FOIA but angered that my government was not the one doing so.

Call your council member and the mayor and demand the open government they promised.

Chris Dove lives in Suffolk. Email him at