Riverhead Town scores A+ in open records audit

Riverhead Town Hall (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Riverhead and Southold towns both received scores of A+ score in a Press Club of Long Island audit that evaluated local governments’ compliance with open records laws.

Municipalities were graded on their responses to Freedom of Information Law requests, including factors such as timeliness, helpfulness and protocol, according to PCLI’s report, which was released Monday. The organization asked governments to provide records including a list of employees and their salaries, copies of minutes from the five most recent meetings and a copy of their policy on protocol for responding to records requests, as required by FOIL.

Riverhead provided the fastest response of all Long Island towns, taking two days to fully comply with requests, according to the report. It received points in the helpfulness category for its reply, as well as sending its FOIL and subpoena logs, which it is not obligated to keep. Its website also includes instructions on how to send a request, the report noted.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Tuesday that it’s gratifying to see the town was recognized and credited Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm, deputy town attorney Dan McCormick and financial administrator Bill Rothaar, who set up a table the town uses to track all its FOIL requests, for taking the requests seriously.

“This is the people’s business, this is the people’s records, so I’ve always been very proactive in distributing just about everything we can to the public, as quickly as we can, because they’re not my records and the public has a right to have them,” Mr. Walter said.

PCLI cited Southold as the only town to have an online FOIL submission tool. The town fully responded to the request, which was sent in two parts by Town Clerk Elizabeth Neville, in six days. Southold also has information on how to submit a FOIL request on its website, earning it a point in the helpfulness category, according to the report.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Ms. Neville and town attorney Bill Duffy do everything they can to comply with the law.

“I think that it epitomizes the way we do business in town government,” Mr. Russell said Tuesday.

Greenport Village received a C on its report card, according to the report. The village lost a point because PCLI had to follow up three times after deadline extensions the village requested had passed. It earned a point for helpfulness by providing its meeting agendas and FOIL log, which it is not required to maintain.

“We must do better,” Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said, adding that PCLI’s report would be discussed at a work session.

Village clerk Sylvia Pirillo noted that the village has improved its responsiveness since PCLI filed its request.

“I did agree that one portion of your seven-part request could perhaps have been answered in a more timely manner,” Ms. Pirillo wrote to PCLI about the report. “Also, it must be simultaneously noted that the terminology ‘as far back as records are kept’ is nebulous at best, in terms of Records Access Requests. In the one-plus year since your request, the Village has streamlined its FOIL process, with great success.”

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File photo: Riverhead Town Hall. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Editor’s note: Greenport Village received a C on its report card, according to the Press Club of Long Island’s report. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the village received a C+. We regret the error.