Public Records

Knowledge Can Be Power.

Agency owner talking about a sweet new deal they got with the City of New York? How exciting! But wouldn’t it help your negotiation position if you knew what they were pulling in on that contract? Yes! But how could you do that? Check it out: You can go to the Mayor’s Office of Contracts Public Access Center at 253 Broadway, on the 9th Floor, in New York, New York, and you can print out data on their contracts with the city. You’ll need the proper business name, which you may obtain from the New York Business database.  Once you get a printout of the general contract information, such as the city agency the company does business with and the amount of the contract/contract number, you can make a FOIL request to the city agency they do business with for a copy of the contract. Knowledge is power if you do something with it. Use information to negotiate for yourself, bid on contracts, or share it with others so that they might negotiate more effectively.

FOIL Requests.

FOIL requests are easy. You find the FOIL law that applies. If it’s a New York Executive Agency, it’s covered under the Executive Law. The State provides tons of free resources for learning about FOIL requests. If the agency you are looking to find information from is a court, then it is likely covered under the Judiciary Law.

Writing your request is even easier than reading the law. Locate the address of the FOIL officer of the agency you are seeking to find information from. Often this information is available online. For example, as of writing, the FOIL Officer of the New York City Law Department is Andrea Fastenberg, 100 Church Street, Room 6-244, New York, New York 10007; which is information easily accessible through the Law Department directory.

Now sit down to write your FOIL request. Simply write hello, my name is so and so, and under such and such section of law, I make the following Freedom of Information Law requests for the following records. You list the records you want information about. You should ask for a full copy the record or contract, and any and all documents/records related to that record or contract. You should name the record or contract, and describe it as fully as possible so that the agency can locate it for you. Ensure that the agency has good contact information for you, and offer to accept the information by e-mail, because it may reduce your FOIL request costs. Succinctly, the government is entitled to a small fee for production of records. Often, receiving the information by e-mail eliminates this cost.

If you are seeking information generally from a state or city agency, you may also consider adding a time period to your FOIL request. For example: I request a copy of any and all contracts for stenographic reporting services, court reporting services, recording services, or electronic recording services from January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017. This will help the agency with your request, because then they would only be looking for records in that year, as opposed to records going back a decade or more.

Always be professional and polite. If you do not receive a response within a month, you should consider following up with another FOIL request!