Who you gonna call for FOIA issues? Bob Freeman

Sep 28, 2017

Some things change and some never change. That is from the state's open government expert, speaking Wednesday night at the Buffalo History Museum. Bob Freeman said he has had the same state phone number since 1974 and people call all the time with questions.

Freeman is Executive Director of the state Committee on Open Government. The lawyer opines on issues like the Freedom of Information Law and open meetings law.

Questions on both filled his talk, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"My suggestion has been that, if there is a question, you should have your copy of the Open Meetings Law with you," Freeman said. "You show it to the board and say, 'Show me which basis for entry to executive session applies.' And if they ignore you, you vote the rascals out. That's what we do in this country."

While executive sessions and very slow responses to freedom of information requests are long-running issues, Freeman says technology brings new issues, such as: Is the text of an email message a public record? The answer, he said, depends on the content - just like with the issue of police body cameras,

"It depends upon the content, just like any other record," Freeman said. "In some instances the body cam may identify a person who has a medical injury, might involve a witness to a crime. It might, if disclosed, interfere with a law enforcement investigation. On the other hand, the footage might be innocuous. So the issue involves the content."

Freeman suggested that events photographed by those body cameras will become a fertile field for court litigation.

"The longest running problem involves delays in response to requests," Freeman said. "The newest problem, which I discussed earlier tonight, involves the use of body cams by police departments."