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June 19, 1997

 

 

 

Mr. Mike Carmody
455 Deer Park Avenue
Babylon, NY 11702-2315

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 Mr. Carmody:

I have received your letter of June 4. In short, you have
questioned the propriety of a denial of access to complaints
pertaining to your property that were transmitted to the Village of
Babylon.

In this regard, as a general matter, 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 section 87(2)(a) through (i) of the
Law. When a complaint is made to an agency, §87(2)(b) of the
Freedom of Information Law is often relevant. That provision
permits an agency to withhold records to the extent that disclosure
would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

With respect to such complaints, it has generally been advised
that the substance of a complaint is available, but that those
portions of the complaint which identify complainants may be
deleted on the ground that disclosure would result in an
unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. I point out that
§89(2)(b) states that an "agency may delete identifying details
when it makes records available." Further, the same provision
contains five examples of unwarranted invasions of personal
privacy, the last two of which include:

"iv. disclosure of information of a personal
nature when disclosure would result in
economic or personal hardship to the subject
party and such information is not relevant to
the work of the agency requesting or
maintaining it; or

v. disclosure of information of a personal
nature reported in confidence to an agency and
not relevant to the ordinary work of such
agency."

In my view, what is relevant to the work of the agency is the
substance of the complaint, i.e., whether or not the complaint has
merit. The identity of the person who made the complaint is often
irrelevant to the work of the agency, and in such circumstances, I
believe that identifying details may be deleted. However, again,
I believe that the remainder of the records must be disclosed.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:jm

cc: Board of Trustees
Stephen Fellman, Building Inspector
Mr. Sikowitz, Village Attorney