August 15, 1994
Ms. Linda Van Vechten
Green Lake Avenue
Leeds, NY 12451
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 Ms. Van Vechten:
I have received your letter of August 9 and the materials attached to it.
Having submitted a series of questions to officials of the Town of Catskill, you were informed by the Town Supervisor that "he wished to discuss [your] request, but that he could not answer them in writing". You considered the response to be unacceptable because you asked for a written response. You were also informed in writing that Town officials need not answer questions in response to requests made under the Freedom of Information Law.
In this regard, 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 agency officials 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, Town officials in my view would not be obliged to provide the information sought by answering questions or preparing new records in an effort to be responsive. In short, in the future, rather than seeking information or raising questions, it is suggested that you request existing records. Enclosed is "Your Right to Know", which explains the Freedom of Information Law and includes a sample letter of request that may be useful to you.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding of the Freedom of Information Law and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Hon. William Beck, Supervisor
Hon. Jean Deyo, Clerk