Monday night, for the second time in my life, I was willing to go to jail for a principle. The first time ocurred during the Great Avon Garbage War of 1993. (That episode is recounted in my collection of columns, Writing for Myself: And ticking everybody else off! available at fine bookstores everywhere!)
As I observed in my introduction to the May 20, 1993 column, “Sometimes the power of the press is not enough to insure justice and the publisher himself has to throw himself on the barricades.” In that case, it was the right of every legitimate voter to have his vote counted, last night, it was the right of the public to have access to our public documents in a timely manner. (See clarion news blog coverage).
Let’s face it, the Freedom of Information Law gets no respect, at least not in Geneseo lately. PDDG had to go to court to try to get the town to disclose public records that were referenced in the town attorney’s bills. The town successfully thumbed its nose at us by saying that the records couldn’t be found and must have been “inadvertently destroyed.”
Then we sent four opinions to the Planning Board and its attorney last week, all showing, without a doubt, that a DEIS and all records submitted by a developer related to a DEIS, are public under the Freedom of Information Law. Even so, Planning Board’s attorney, Joe Picciotti, refused to release an important public document in time for a critical meeting on the DEIS.
To add insult to injury, Mr. Picciotti also ignored our written request to provide a citation to any legal opinion or precedent that would support his interpretation that the documents are not public. He did this, no doubt, because he knew that the remedy of bringing a Article 78 petition is long and expensive, and that his client (whom he seems to wrongly perceive to be the Chairman) can violate the spirit of the law by complying with the letter of the law, which allows delaying disclosure until it is too late for anyone to care.
This alone would probably not have been enough to set me off, except that it is part of an ongoing pattern of trying to keep the public in the dark as to the arguments that Newman is making to our town officials and consultants so they can not be rebutted. In fact, another recent PDDG FOIL produced a previously unknown memo from the developer’s engineers addressing PDDG’s positions that Chairman Folts had “forgotten” to give to the rest of his own board.
Going into the meeting, I knew there was at least a possibility that I would be arrested, but I decided that the lawless behavior of the Planning Board under the leadership of Chairman Folts and the illegal guidance of Mr. Picciotti had gone on long enough.
I also knew that, whether I was arrested or not, my decision to confront the Chairman and speak out would cause me political damage in my run for town supervisor– but I am not one who can to sit back and let injustice prevail without a fight. I spoke Monday, because faced with such a arrogant and cynical attempt to circumvent the law, I could do nothing else– no matter what the consequences.