June 2, 1997
Major Philip L. Cooper
14 Belwyn Lane
Centereach, NY 11720
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to
issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is
based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Major Cooper:
I have received your letter of May 15, as well as the
correspondence attached to it. You have sought assistance in your
efforts in obtaining information concerning the South Setauket Park
District and its expenditures.
In this regard, having reviewed the materials, I point out
that the title of the Freedom of Information Law may be somewhat
misleading, for it is not a vehicle that requires agencies to
provide information per se; rather, it requires agencies to
disclose records to the extent provided by law. As such, while an
agency official may choose to answer questions or to provide
information by responding to questions, those steps would represent
actions beyond the scope of the requirements of the Freedom of
Information Law. Moreover, the Freedom of Information pertains to
existing records. Section 89(3) of that statute states in part
that an agency need not create a record in response to a request.
Therefore, insofar as an agency does not maintain records
containing the information sought, it would not be obliged to
prepare new records that contain that information. In the future,
rather than seeking to elicit information by raising a series of
questions, it is suggested that you request existing records.
Second, as it pertains to existing records, the Freedom of
Information Law is based upon a presumption of access. Stated
differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the
extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more
grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
Third, while I am not an expert on the subject of park
districts, it appears that the information in which you are
interested, if it exists, must be disclosed. Park districts are
considered specifically in Chapter 205 of the Unconsolidated Laws,
a copy of which is enclosed. They are corporate entities separate
from the towns in which they are located, and they are governed by
a board of park commissioners, which "shall have entire charge,
control and management of the establishment, maintenance, operation
and improvement of such park, and may employ such persons and
expend such amounts of money as may be necessary... (see §9). In
addition, §12 states that: "The board of park commissioners shall
annually in each year file with the town board a detailed report of
its receipts and expenditures, during the preceding calendar year,
or in accordance with the accounting period of the town."
I hope that the preceding commentary and the enclosed material
will be of use to you, and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman