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Judge says suit wastes court’s time

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CHATHAM–In a sharply worded decision Acting State Supreme Court Justice Henry Zwack has ruled in favor of the Village of Chatham, dismissing a petition filed by Frank Genovese, who claimed he had not received public information he sought from the village under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

In the ruling, Judge Zwack wrote, “the Court finds that the Village Treasurer adequately complied with petitioner’s FOIL requests.” The five-page order also concludes that Mr. Genovese’s petition to the court was “indefensible” and a “tremendous waste of judicial time.”

Mr. Genovese filed an action called an Article 78 petition after submitting two FOIL requests last March for information on expenditures from 2011 and 2012 related to village parking and certain a village bank account. He was given documents, but Mr. Genovese said in his petition that Mayor Tom Curran and village Treasurer Barbara Henry failed to supply all information he requested and the information he did get was “unmanageable and unintelligible for his purposes,” according to the ruling.

An Article 78 proceeding in New York State is filed to challenge the activities of an administrative agency in court.

“We were confident that we had provided him with what he asked for,” said Ms. Henry in a phone interview with The Columbia Paper after the December 17 decision was issued. Ms. Henry said that Mr. Genovese was looking for information about the “J-Fund,” which holds the revenues for the municipal parking lot near the Tracy Memorial Village Hall and the Chatham Brewing building. The lot is jointly owned by the Town of Chatham and the village.

“It appears he questions where that money is,” said Ms. Henry, who added that the money for parking permits the village sells is in the fund.

“Mr. Genovese did not exhaust all the avenues of recourse before suing. Perhaps if he’d done so, we could have determined exactly what he was looking for and helped him in his search,” Mayor Tom Curran wrote in an email after the ruling was released.

Mr. Genovese told The Columbia Paper by phone last week that the information he received was not from the years he wanted. He said he wanted “information on why money is missing from the fund.” He said the FOIL was request was just to get the right information.

The judge had a different view, writing, “It is in no way clear exactly clear what the petitioner is ultimately seeking.”

Mr. Genovese said he still discussing with his attorney what his next step should be.

Mr. Genovese is the vice president of Chatham Hardware, Inc., in the Village of Chatham.

Ms. Henry said that the village continues to buy supplies form the store, though there is no formal contract between the village and the business.

“The Village will continue to purchase from Chatham Hardware, as we need their expertise and inventory to keep the village running,” Mayor Curran wrote.

In the ruling, the judge also faulted Mr. Genovese for taking his appeal directly to court instead of lodging it first with the Village Board, which is the designated FOIL appeals officer for the village. Ms. Henry said she advised Mr. Genovese that he needed to contact the board with his requests.

“Dismissal without further discussion is warranted in this proceeding, as it patently clear that petitioner [Mr. Genovese] has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies,” Judge Zwack wrote. He continued, “Petitioner chose to proceed directly to Court, which has proven to be a tremendous waste of judicial time.”

The ruling allows the Village Board to send documentation to the court asking for attorney’s fees from Mr. Genovese. The board will hold a special meeting this week to discuss whether or not to go forward with pursuing legal fees. Mayor Curran thinks the board should, writing that “with the legal expenses approaching $4,600, it would be a real disservice to the taxpayer to not seek payment of legal fees.”

Mayor Curran also stressed that anyone wanting budget information can ask the village clerk. “It’s public information,” he wrote. If a FOIL needs to be filed, the mayor said, the clerk can help with that process.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

 

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