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Queens Chronicle

Activist sues Katz over Willets records denial

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2016 10:30 am

A Whitestone resident and media producer is suing the Office of the Queens Borough President and the borough president herself, Melinda Katz, alleging repeated violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Law for failing to respond to his requests for information concerning records related to the Willets Point neighborhood.

Robert LoScalzo, who says he has been working on an independent documentary about the Willets Point area since 2007, says he requested records concerning meetings held by Katz on Jan. 29 and March 3 of this year to discuss the deteriorated streets in the area, a possible city Department of Transportation contract to repave the streets for $9.1 million, waste-hauling tractor-trailers that park in the neighborhood and the status of its redevelopment.

LoScalzo says he made his initial FOIL request on May 12 and an appeal on June 4, and didn’t receive a reply to either one.

State law requires one within five business days, and a lack of response is tantamount to a denial, according to the state Committee on Open Government, which monitors compliance with the FOIL and Open Meetings Law. The only recourse available is to sue an agency.

A copy of the lawsuit says it was filed on Aug. 12 in state Supreme Court in Queens.

Katz’s office said it has not been served with any suit and wouldn't comment on pending litigation if it had, but that it has responded to the FOIL request. The office did not respond to a question about when the response was sent, and as of press time, LoScalzo said he hadn’t received a response.

In a sharply worded press release, LoScalzo accused Katz of hypocrisy and duplicity with the public.

“Just before this past Fourth of July weekend, Melinda Katz sent an email to her list, quoting loftily from the Declaration of Independence and imploring everyone to read America’s founding documents and get acquainted with our hard-won rights,” the release said in part.

“Ironically, when those of us who know our rights attempt to exercise them at Borough President Katz’s office by requesting public records, those rights are denied.”

“To my knowledge no response to Mr. LoScalzo’s Freedom of Information Law request was ever received,” said Spencer Sheehan of Sheehan & Associates, PC, in Great Neck, LI, the attorney representing LoScalzo in the matter.

“Maybe Mr. Loscalzo has made FOIL requests in previous years to the Borough President’s Office. It’s possible that they are referring to those requests when they indicated they responded, but to my knowledge, no response had been made to the FOIL request that is the subject of the litigation.”

The Chronicle reported in March that advocacy group Willets Point United complained that it was left out of the March 3 meeting.

Gerald Antonacci, president of WPU, had said at the time that his group has a history of advocating for paving and other improvements to city responsibilities in the area and should have been included in the discussion.

WPU complained at the time that elected officials, the city DOT and three large Willets Point businesses that aren’t WPU members were included in the meeting: Tully Construction, Fodera Foods and House of Spices.

At the time, Katz’s office said the invitations to both meetings were directed to businesses involved in the issue, including but not limited to Tully and Fodera.

A DOT spokesman had confirmed that the department was requesting $9.1 million in the next budget for surveying, milling, paving and other work on roads in Willets Point.

LoScalzo has repeatedly used the state’s Freedom of Information Law to obtain records related to development projects in Queens. The Chronicle reported last February that he questioned why it took more than 14 months for him to get records from the New York State Department of State related to the proposed Flushing West development.

LoScalzo says he has won several other FOIL disputes with various government entities.

UPDATE

This article was updated to include the statement of the Borough President's Office that it has not been served with any lawsuit from Robert LoScalzo.

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2 comments:

  • Kerry Whalen posted at 10:36 am on Fri, Aug 26, 2016.

    Kerry Whalen Posts: 12

    “Ironically, when those of us who know our rights attempt to exercise them..." wrote Mr. LoScalzo. Mr. LoScalzo has learned what I have learned, the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) is not worth the paper it is printed on.

    I attempted to get documents under the FOIL law from the Queens District Attorney's Office and I was denied by Assistant District Attorney Josette Simmons on August 15, 2013 as follows:

    "This letter is in response to your letter seeking records relating to the
    Luftahansa German Airways robbery at John F. Kennedy International Airport on
    December 11, 1978. Your request for records directly relating to you
    involving the robbery is hereby denied...."

    After 37 years it is still the largest armed robbery that has ever occurred in Queens and the District Attorney still gets the name of the corporation involved wrong. Assistant Attorney Simmons the name of the company is "Lufthansa German Airlines."

    Maybe that is why they did not find any of the numerous "records" or the six million bucks, either!

    FOIL might work if you have the American Civil Liberties Union behind you. Otherwise, you get nothing.

     
  • CleanUpJamaicaQueens posted at 8:35 am on Fri, Aug 26, 2016.

    CleanUpJamaicaQueens Posts: 249

    GOOD. Katz has been proven to big the most dangerous crooked Borough President. While Marshall was just a plain idiot and Schulman was crooked as well, Katz is intelligent, smart and a con artist, making her the most dangerous of all. Ironic with all the homeless shelters being dumped in her borough, NOT one word from her on this issue, NOT ONE. And the majority of the local media is not covering this HUGE homeless shelter scam either.

    KUDOS to Robert LoScalzo.