July 7, 2004
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.
I have received your letter in which you asked if you would be able to request educational background information concerning Parole Board members under the Freedom of Information Law.
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 §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law. Relevant to the matter is §87(2)(b), which states that an agency may withhold records to the extent that disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Based on the judicial interpretation of the Freedom of Information Law, it is clear that public officers and employees enjoy a lesser degree of privacy than others, for it has been found in various contexts that those individuals are required to be more accountable than others. The courts have found that, as a general rule, records that are relevant to the performance of the official duties of a public officer or employee are available, for disclosure in such instances would result in a permissible rather than an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy [see e.g., Farrell v. Village Board of Trustees, 372 NYS 2d 905 (1975); Gannett Co. v. County of Monroe, 59 AD 2d 309 (1977), aff'd 45 NY 2d 954 (1978); Sinicropi v. County of Nassau, 76 AD 2d 838 (1980); Geneva Printing Co. and Donald C. Hadley v. Village of Lyons, Sup. Ct., Wayne Cty., March 25, 1981; Montes v. State, 406 NYS 2d 664 (Court of Claims, 1978); Powhida v. City of Albany, 147 AD 2d 236 (1989); Scaccia v. NYS Division of State Police, 530 NYS 2d 309, 138 AD 2d 50 (1988); Steinmetz v. Board of Education, East Moriches, Sup. Ct., Suffolk Cty., NYLJ, Oct. 30, 1980); Capital Newspapers v. Burns, 67 NY 2d 562 (1986)]. Conversely, to the extent that items relating to public officers or employees are irrelevant to the performance of their official duties, it has been found that disclosure would indeed constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy [see e.g., Matter of Wool, Sup. Ct., Nassau Cty., NYLJ, Nov. 22, 1977, Minerva v. Village of Valley Stream, Sup. Ct., Nassau Cty., May 20, 1981 Seelig v. Sielaff, 200 AD 2d 298 (1994)].
Additionally, in Kwasnik v. City of New York [Supreme Court, New York County, September 26, 1997, affirmed, 262 AD2d 171 (1999)], the court quoted from and relied upon an opinion rendered by this office and held that portions of resumes must be disclosed. The Committee's opinion stated that:
"If, for example, an individual must have certain types of experience, educational accomplishments or certifications as a condition precedent to serving in [a] particular position, those aspects of a resume or application would in my view be relevant to the performance of the official duties of not only the individual to whom the record pertains, but also the appointing agency or officers ... to the extent that records sought contain information pertaining to the requirements that must have been met to hold the position, they should be disclosed, for I believe that disclosure of those aspects of documents would result in a permissible rather than an unwarranted invasion [of] personal privacy. Disclosure represents the only means by which the public can be aware of whether the incumbent of the position has met the requisite criteria for serving in that position.
"The Opinion further stated that:
"Although some aspects of one’s employment history may be withheld, the fact of a person’s public employment is a matter of public record, for records identifying public employees, their titles and salaries must be prepared and made available under the Freedom of Information Law [see §87(3)(b)]."
I note that it has also been held that disclosure of a public employee's general educational background would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy and must be disclosed [see Ruberti, Girvin & Ferlazzo v. NYS Division of State Police, 641 NYS 2d 411, 218 AD 2d 494 (1996)]. Further, subdivision (2) of §259-b of the Executive Law pertaining to the State Board of Parole provides that:
"Each member of the board shall have been awarded a degree from an accredited four-year college or university or a graduate degree from such college or university or accredited graduate school and shall have had at least five years experience in one or more of the fields of criminology, administration of criminal justice, law enforcement, sociology, law, social work, corrections, psychology, psychiatry or medicine."
In short, I believe that a Parole Board member’s general educational background, as well as other items pertinent to that person's employment, must be disclosed.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
ROBERT J. FREEMAN
BY: Janet M. Mercer
cc: Terrence X. Tracy