The legislative declaration of §89 of the New York State Freedom of Information Law states, “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.”
Since 2008, Tompkins County officials and officials the Towns of Ithaca, Dryden, Danby, and Caroline have withheld information about the proposed trail from landowners. In Summer 2016, Ed Marx of the Tompkins County Planning Department refused communication or a meeting with landowners. The towns of Ithaca, Dryden, Danby, and Caroline indicated they didn’t have any information to provide, and that landowners should contact the county for more information.
The Towns and County have misled the public into believing that they are communicating openly with landowners along the proposed trail. They put out the following public statements, but continue to be elusive with landowners.
- According to the County’s website promoting the trail, “the Towns hosting the trail will work with neighboring landowners to address and mitigate areas of concern”.
- Caroline Supervisor Mark Whitmer has said, “I will continue to reach out to landowners adjoining the trail to keep them informed about the plan and public meetings” (Caroline Supervisor, Mark Whitmer, “December Notes from the Town Supervisor”, The Old Mill, January 2017).
In November and December 2016, Scott & Crystal Van Gaasbeck submitted FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests to Tompkins County to gain information about the local government’s plan to turn their private farm into a public recreational area.
Subsequently, Tompkins County refused to provide some of the information sought in the FOIL requests, information which was referenced publicly at the “Open House” on November 29, 2016, and in an Ithaca Times Article, “A Longer South Hill Rec Way?” on December 7, 2016.
Petitioners Scott and Crystal Van Gaasbeck are bringing the following proceeding against Tompkins County pursuant to Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) requesting that the Court direct Tompkins County to provide the Petitioners with records responsive to their November 7, 2016 and December 8, 2016 FOIL requests for records pertaining to the County’s communications with NYSEG concerning the recreational trail.