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  August 15, 1995

 

 

Mr. Carl J. Babnik
Jamestown Professional Fire Fighters Local 1772
Municipal Building
Jamestown, NY 14701

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. Babnik:

I have received your recent letter and the materials attached to it. You have sought assistance in your attempts to obtain overtime records pertaining to certain employees of the City of Jamestown. Although the City has offered to provide records indicating "rank and year-to-date salary", your interest involves the acquisition of records identifying particular employees and the amount of overtime payments made to them.

From my perspective, records reflective of payments to public employees, including those concerning payments for overtime, must be disclosed. In this regard, I offer the following comments.

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.

Although the Freedom of Information Law generally does not require that agencies maintain or prepare records [see §89(3)], an exception involves payroll information. Specifically, §87(3) of the Law states in relevant part that:

"Each agency shall maintain...

(b) a record setting forth the name, public office address, title and salary of every officer or employee of the agency..."

While §87(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Law authorizes an agency to withhold records to the extent that disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy", the courts have provided substantial direction regarding the privacy of public employees. First, it is clear that public employees enjoy a lesser degree of privacy than others, for it has been found in various contexts that public employees are required to be more accountable than others. Second, with regard to records pertaining to public employees, the courts have found that, as a general rule, records that are relevant to the performance of a public employee' s official duties 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); 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 records are irrelevant to the performance of one's 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].

Based upon the foregoing, it is clear in my view that records reflective of salaries of public employees must be prepared and made available. Similarly, records reflective of other payments, whether they pertain to overtime, or participation in work-related activities, for example, would be available, for those records in my view would be relevant to the performance of one's official duties. It is noted that one of the decisions cited above, Capital Newspapers v. Burns, supra, involved a request for records reflective of the days and dates of sick leave claimed by a particular municipal police officer. The Appellate Division found that those records must be disclosed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The decision indicates that the public has both economic and safety reasons for knowing whether public employees perform their duties when scheduled to do so. As such, attendance records, including those involving overtime work, are in my opinion clearly available, for they are relevant to the performance of public employees' official duties. Similarly, I believe that records reflective of payment of overtime must be disclosed, for the public has an economic interest in obtaining those records and because the records are relevant to the performance of public employees' official duties.

Lastly, in affirming the Appellate Division decision in Capital Newspapers, the Court of Appeals found that:

"The Freedom of Information Law expresses this State's strong commitment to open government and public accountability and imposes a broad standard of disclosure upon the State and its agencies (see, Matter of Farbman & Sons v New York City Health and Hosps. Corp., 62 NY 2d 75, 79). The statute, enacted in furtherance of the public's vested and inherent 'right to know', affords all citizens the means to obtain information concerning the day-to-day functioning of State and local government thus providing the electorate with sufficient information 'to make intelligent, informed choices with respect to both the direction and scope of governmental activities' and with an effective tool for exposing waste, negligence and abuse on the part of government officers" (Capital Newspapers v. Burns, supra, 565-566).

Based on the preceding analysis, it is clear in my view that payroll and attendance records must be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Law.

In an effort to enhance compliance with and understanding of the Freedom of Information Law, copies of this opinion will be forwarded to City officials.

I hope that I have been of some assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

RJF:jm

cc: Mayor Kimball
Shirley A. Sanfilippo, City Clerk/Records Access Officer