January 29, 1996
Mr. Bernard J. Zolnowski, Jr.
861 Seneca Creek Road
West Seneca, NY 14224
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. Zolnowski:
I have received your transmittal of January 10 in which you requested an advisory opinion.
According to your correspondence, you transmitted a request under the Freedom of Information Law by fax to Erie County on November 9. On November 20, you were informed by the Second Assistant County Attorney that "In order to appropriate [sic] respond to your inquiry, I am requesting that you set forth the appropriate Public Officer [sic] Law section that you rely on for same".
In this regard, I know of no provision in the Freedom of Information Law or any judicial interpretation of that statute that suggests that an applicant must cite a particular provision within the Public Officers Law in order to justify a request for records. On the contrary, §89(3) of the Freedom of Information Law states that an applicant must merely "reasonably describe" the records sought. Therefore, I believe that any request made in writing that reasonably describes the records should meet the requirements of the statute.
Moreover, the legislative declaration that appears in §84 of the Freedom of Information Law clearly indicates that the statute is intended to diminish barriers to access, not to create them. The declaration states in relevant part that:
"...it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible."
"The people's right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality."
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Kenneth D. Schoetz, County Attorney
James A.W. McLeod, Second Assistant County Attorney