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One botched FOI response from City Hall

This is how screwed up City Hall is when it comes to releasing public records.

On June 19, I filed a Freedom of Information request with City Hall that asked for a boatload of data, including the job descriptions and credentials of management personnel at the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp.

I didn't hear back right away. In fact, I'm still waiting for most of what I requested. You might have heard about it from me in my blog or perhaps my boss in her column.

Update: Peter Cutler, the mayor's spokesman, has responded to Margaret Sullivan's column, which Artvoice has critiqued.

Anyway, on July 9, Mayor Byron Brown, reacting to a story I wrote about BERC President Brian Reilly and the health insurance policy he got for his live-in girlfriend at public expense, gave Reilly the heave-ho and announced the hiring of a new chief fiscal officer for the agency.

The mayor's office trumpeted the fact the new guy, E.J. Walton, was a graduate of the Harvard Business School who later worked a number of jobs in the private sector, including at a bank. The mayor's office gave The News a copy of Walton's resume.  (I've whited out sensitive stuff like his personal cell phone number and the names of his kids).

The first page of the resume looked like this.


Upon reading, I learned that his last full-time job was at Virginia Union University, that he's been involved in funeral home ventures, and that he worked for six years with the First National Bank of Boston.

Ah, banking experience. A good thing.

Brian Meyer and I include some of the information in the story we wrote.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday, as in two days ago..

A letter arrives from Divitta Alexander, BERC's lawyer, responding to my June 19 FOI request, or at least the portion relating to the job descriptions and credentials of management at her shop.

Included was the same resume of Walton's that the mayor's office had given us a month before.

Only it was different.  A lot of stuff was blacked out -- or redacted, as they say in FOI-speak.

Walton resume redecated Why all the black lines?

To block, among other things, the names of Walton's previous employers.

To protect his privacy, silly.

BERC couldn't have possibly disclosed, for example, that his last full-time job was at Virginia Union University. Or that he used to work at First National Bank of Boston.

To do so would have been an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" the BERC attorney said in her letter to me.

In other words, BERC withheld the very information the mayor's office wanted us to have the month before.

To be fair, the BERC attorney did redact some things she should have, like Walton's personal cell phone number and private e-mail address. 

But the names of his previous employers and companies he owned and operated?

When the mayor's office had already released that information -- and more?

Not to mention that BERC took more than a month to provide something that had been sitting around for, well, a month. I mean, the mayor's office provided the resume the day Walton was hired.

Readers, welcome to my world.

And welcome to City Hall.

It doesn't end there.

Susan Schulman, who doubles as an investigative reporter and editor, submitted an FOI request to multiple City Hall agencies in June asking for documents related to grants provided to the Jeremiah Partnership and the Bethel Community Development Corp., which Sue and Patrick Lakamp wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

Alexander, the BERC attorney, responded by saying she would need up to 45 days to provide the documents. About the same time, Scott Billman, her counterpart at the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, sent us the documents.

Memo to BERC: Where there's a will, there's a way.

Alexander, in her letter accompanying the redacted resume, closed by saying I had the right to appeal.

Oh, I'll appeal, alright, but not to the BERC appeals officer.

Nope, I'm appealing to the court of public opinion.

Folks, what do you think?


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