Cuomo’s contempt for public’s right to know

Reporting, analysis and commentary
by Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post

You may recall a series of stories Dan Telvock did last fall about the push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, among others, to open Gallagher Beach for swimming despite its PCB contaminated water and proximity to not one, but two Superfund sites.

State officials, after first suggesting they might not test the beach for its fitness as a swimming hole, relented and announced the soil and water at Gallagher Beach would be thoroughly tested. We were told test results would be available in February.

Well, folks, it’s now the second week in April and state officials are still refusing to say anything about the testing.

Is the study complete?

If so, what did it show?

Will Gallagher Beach open for swimming this summer?

Your tax dollars at work.

Or not.

Sadly, this is par for the course with this governor, and that’s really the point of this post.

Andrew Cuomo, more than any governor in recent memory, constantly thumbs his nose at the public’s right to know what his government is up to.

The aforementioned Gallagher Beach episode is just the latest example.

Officials at the Department of Environmental Conservation refused an interview request when Dan contacted them several weeks ago. He was reporting on a concrete crushing plant operating in the Seneca Babcock section of the city without a necessary state permit and blanketing the nearby neighborhood in dust. I guess the DEC is so busy not enforcing its regulations that it didn’t have time to talk.

About the time Cuomo’s DEC was playing Nancy Reagan and just saying “no,” his Thruway Authority was finally handing over payroll data to me that I had requested near four months earlier. I’ve been requesting payroll data from local and state agencies for close to 30 years and it typically takes them up to a month to provide.

Except Cuomo’s Thruway Authority, of course.

No, the folks who never saw a toll increase they didn’t like apparently couldn’t stand the prospect of revealing to the public how much their employees make. So they held onto the information for one, two, three, almost four months before I forced their hand by filing a a legal appeal based on their refusal to honor my FOI request in a timely fashion.

In a final act of defiance, the bureaucrats provided the data in a way that hindered my ability to analyze it. They finally relented when I reminded them of their legal obligation to provide the data in a more user-friendly format.

Among other things, the records show the authority had employed no fewer than 10 lawyers in 2012. Three made more than $100,000 – actually, more than $116,000, and up to $150,000.

But the generosity with our tolls didn’t end there.

Elsewhere in the law department, one paralegal was paid just shy of $120,000 while two secretaries – er, executive administrative assistants – pulled down more than $70,000.

Then, elsewhere, there’s the toll collector who made over $101,000.

Geez.

No wonder the Thruway Authority didn’t want to part with its payroll information.

This is not a problem limited to a little ‘ol investigative reporting center like mine.

Consider these press accounts:

Crain’s New York Business had this to say in 2012:

The New York Times and the Albany Times Union reported that Cuomo staffers had pulled documents from the state archive for his tenure as attorney general. The governor sends untraceable Blackberry messages rather than emails. And his office collected a dossier on at least one reporter.

“It’s just weird,” said an Albany insider. “Over the long run, you establish a narrative of a creepy, Nixonian-type government, and that begins to erode people’s confidence.”

Last year, the Watertown Daily Times weighed in with this observation:

The governor, who has displayed remarkably thin skin for the state’s top elected official, has severely ratcheted down the flow of information, and he has applied remarkable control over the free flow of information both from his agencies, and the local agencies that rely on state assistance.

Or, this quote from the governor himself a few weeks ago as reported by Bloomberg, in defending closed-door budget negotiations after pledging in 2011 to end the practice.

“Just because something is done behind closed doors doesn’t mean the process isn’t transparent.”

Folks, I am not making this up.

That’s why I have to laugh whenever I hear Cuomo use the word “transparency.” There are no fewer than 118 press releases that use the word on his official website, which is not to be confused with his online news network. (Your tax dollars at work again.)

The only thing transparent about Andrew Cuomo is his contempt for the public’s right to know.