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February 24, 1999

 

Mr. Jack McAndrew
53 Fowler Street
Port Jervis, NY 12771-2019

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. McAndrew:

I have received your letter of February 8 and the materials attached to it.

According to your letter, the Board of Education of the Port Jervis City School
District received an anonymous donation of software, and you have asked whether the
District is required to disclose the identity of the donor.

Assuming that a record is maintained by the District identifying the donor, such a
record would fall within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law. As a general
matter, that statute 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. The only ground
for denial of relevance in my opinion would be §87(2)(b), which permits an agency to
withhold records insofar as disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal
privacy." Further, §89(2)(b) includes a series of examples of unwarranted invasions of
personal privacy.

From my perspective, if the donation was made by a natural person, the District could
likely deny access to his or her identity. One of the examples of unwarranted invasions of
personal privacy, §89(2)(b)(iv), pertains to:

"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 it or maintaining it..."

Disclosure of the identity of the donor might result in personal or economic hardship to that
person. Moreover, in my view, his or her identity would be irrelevant to the ordinary work
of the District. Consequently, it would appear that identifying details pertaining to a natural
person who made the donation could be withheld.

If the donation was made by a business or other similar organization, rather than a
natural person, I believe that the identity of that entity would be accessible. In short, the
exception pertaining to personal privacy is applicable only to records identifying natural
persons; it would not apply to records relating to entities.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:jm

cc: Patrick Hamill