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May 3, 1999

 

Mr. Felix F. Welka
104 Webster Street
Dunkirk, NY 14048-1834

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. Welka:

I have received your correspondence of April 3.

You have raised the following question: "Is the School District's Grievance File open for
inspection regardless whether [sic] the school district or the employee's union filing the
grievance pertaining to personnel or the contract."

If I understand the question, the nature and content of records relating to grievances
would determine the extent to which they must be disclosed. 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 §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law. From my perspective, the
ground for denial of most significance would be §87(2)(b). That provision enables an agency to
withhold records insofar as disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal
privacy."

If, for example, a grievance relates to an issue involving a public employee in the nature
of a health or medical problem, I believe that identifying details pertaining to the employee could
justifiably be withheld. On the other hand, if the grievance does not focus on a particular
employee but rather deals with a practice or policy of the District, for example, privacy would
not be an issue, and the records in question would likely in my view be available in their entirety.

I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director
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