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Sunday, August 9, 2015

The NYC Department of Education Covers Up Wrong-Doing by Administrators and "Friends", and Has SCI, OSI and OEO Help Them Frame or Shut Up The Whistleblowers

The New York Post is doing an old story.

Richard Condon, Special Commissioner of Investigation

Reporters at the NYPOST have heard for years how the Special Commissioner of Investigation, Office of Special Investigations, Office of Equal Opportunity, the police in all precincts and safety agents assigned to all schools have ignored any misconduct, theft, assaults, fraud, and verbal/corporal abuse by administrators since I started looking into these acts in 1999.

No one cared, or no one wanted to make this terrible wrong, right. How do I know? I blew the whistle on theft, Special Education fraud and neglect at PS 6 (against Principal Carmen Farina), Larry Lynch (Principal of MS 54), and Stanley Teitel (Principal of Stuyvesant High School) when 1 or more of my daughters were attending these public schools. At PS 6 I was an Executive Board member, at MS 54 I was PTA President, and at Stuyvesant I was on the Executive Board and Editor of the parent's association newspaper.

Let me give you an example. Three of my daughters attended the Delta Honors Program inside Booker T. Washington MS 54 on West 108th Street in Manhattan. I was elected PTA President three years in a row. I found out the Principal at the time, Lawrence "Larry" Lynch, took the check sent to the PTA from Barnes And Noble after I and my volunteer parents raised a stunning $13,000 in an afternoon fundraiser. I of course investigated where it went.

Suddenly, Theresa Europe assigned OSI investigator Richard Switach to investigate me. I more or less turned the tables on him, by engaging him in his own questioning/"investigation". If he asked me a question, I answered it and asked him a question, gave him suggestions of where he should look for the facts, showed him where the money went and how Larry was playing games with the School Leadership Team and the Comprehensive Educational Plan. No one looked at my information about Larry, D.J. Sheppard (FACE, District 3) and Superintendent Patricia Romandetto. They only wanted to silence me. Good luck with that.

At Stuyvesant High School, where two of my daughters were accepted, the Chinese parents and whistleblower parent Mary Lok did their research and found more than $330,000 missing from the Parent's Association. Leonie Haimson's close friend and ally Paola De Kock (who now works for the NYC DOE) slandered Mary Lok at a meeting, threw her off of her Chinese Parent Committee, and I flew to her side. We called SCI and filed a complaint. Then we went to see Public Advocate Scott Stringer, who put us in touch with his Attorney, Jimmy Yan. Jimmy promised to look into the missing money and the removal of Mary, and I have kept his message to me on my cell phone ever since. OSI, and SCI did nothing, then hired Paola for her excellent stamina at fighting "for wrong-doing", not against it. Mary's daughter and my daughter were harmed by the NYC DOE in retaliation. Scott Stringer and Jimmy Yan were never heard from again.

Christine Rubino (now "Dorto"), an excellent, caring teacher at PS 203, was one of many staff at the school who were horrified that David Santore, a teacher at the school, was inviting boys to visit him at home and use his pool. He bought them new underwear. David retaliated against Christine after she, in a moment of frustration, said to her "closed" circle of friends on facebook that she hated her students and would like to take them to the beach - a few days after a student at another DOE school,  drowned. This was a stupid thing to say, and a few days later she took it down, and forgot about it. Unfortunately, David wanted Christine to be removed from the school because she was very popular and a favorite of the Principal, and she knew that he was taking boys home with him after the after school program, and allowing them to use his swimming pool, buying them new underwear, etc.. Her removal, he thought, would make his afterschool fun easier. He was removed after Christine's 3020-a (I was there as a member of the public, watching Christine's lawyer Bryan Glass, and heard David Senatore testify against Christine) in March 2012.

David Sanatore called me at home several weeks after Christine's termination at her 3020-a, and asked me to help him find a boy he was very worried about. He told me he was very concerned about this boy and wanted my help as a parent advocate. He was not the boy's parent, whom I spoke to and who was very angry at David Sanatore. I called SCI and reported the call and told the investigator, Mr. Jeffrey Anderson, everything that I knew.

Richard Condon, Special Commissioner
About 10 months later Mr. Anderson left a message on my home telephone that Mr Sanatore was back in his school, and he, Anderson, did not substantiate any of my claims. No one, including the boy's very angry dad, was interviewed.

I have many stories of teachers calling OSI and then being charged with the misconduct they reported.

My suggestion: if you see something, say something - but not to SCI, OSI or OEO. Call me or the police, then the media. If you work for the NYC DOE in any capacity, or you are a parent with a child in the system, you should be prepared to be retaliated against. For this reason, you should tell someone not in the NYC DOE System.

Betsy Combier

City investigated just 3 — of 300 — school cheating complaints

Adam Short, NY POST, August 9, 2015
A city agency that investigates school employee misconduct has probed only about 1 percent of the hundreds of cheating allegations it received.
The office of the special commissioner of investigation for city schools, Richard Condon, conducted three probes into alleged test tampering and grade changing — out of about 300 complaints — in 2014.
The number of open cheating investigations this year rose to four — again out of about 300 complaints.
Cheating allegations made up nearly 6 percent of all complaints Condon’s office reviewed in 2014, spokeswoman Regina Romain said.
Instead of probing the allegations of academic fraud, the SCI passed most along to the city Department of Education’s investigative unit, the Office of Special Investigations. The SCI operates under the city Department of Investigation and is independent of the DOE.
The SCI’s referral of the allegations put the DOE in the convenient position of investigating itself, critics say.
“It’s important that investigators are seen as independent, have professional expertise, and have no vested interest,” said Rob Brenner, a former deputy commissioner at the SCI who authored a 1999 report on cheating in schools. “Witnesses who are likely to be other school employees will be pretty wary about coming forward to an internal DOE entity.”
The SCI’s probers, many of whom are retired NYPD detectives, seem better equipped to get to the bottom of fraud than those at the OSI, who are more likely to be lawyers, experts said.
“It feels like a police inquiry” when the SCI is involved, said Columbia University education professor Eric Nadelstern.
Romain and DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield refused to say exactly how many academic-fraud complaints the SCI referred to the OSI, or how many of the complaints were substantiated.
“There is zero tolerance for schools that don’t adhere to our academic policies, and we are committed to ensuring that we have the staff needed to investigate any allegation of misconduct,” Hartfield said, referring to the OSI’s capabilities.
But critics blasted Condon’s office for brushing off cheating cases.
“They hang onto the sexier cases and pass off everything else to OSI,” Nadelstern said. “Test tampering does not meet their criteria for one reason or another.
“In a situation where there appears to be widespread cheating in the schools, nobody connected to the Department of Education, SCI, City Hall, or the state Department of Education looks good. It appears they aren’t being vigilant enough.”
The de Blasio administration has come under fire for a grade-fixing scandal that has raised questions about the value of city high-school diplomas.
Insiders say Mayor de Blasio and DOI Commissioner Mark Peters — who oversees Condon — have shifted the priorities of the city’s main investigative agency away from schools.
Instead, Peters has directed resources toward jail corruption and day-care operators, because de Blasio wanted to clean up Rikers Island and launch a universal pre-K program, said a source familiar with the DOI.
“It did often occur to me why more [academic fraud] isn’t being investigated,” the source said. “If somebody is defrauding to make stats look good or cover up nonperformance, I wouldn’t see why you wouldn’t look into that.”
After Post exposés this summer about cheating school administrators, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña last week said she would form a $5 million task force of city DOE administrators to look for irregularities in exam scores, credits or graduation rates, and turn them over to the SCI.
But critics said an independent body should monitor the school system for cheating.
“You can’t audit yourself. That’s Accounting 101,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Senate Committee on Cities, which oversees city schools.
Additional reporting by Susan Edelman and Carl Campanile

James Rouse: Friend, Music Teacher, Champion of Justice, Advocate For All Children



James Rouse: Friend, Music Teacher, Champion of Justice, Advocate For All Children
Died on April 30, 2015 of Legionnaire's Disease. Rest in Peace, dear friend.
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by Betsy Combier

I forget how I met James Rouse. But I do remember how he blew the whistle on the Lorge School and the turmoil that he felt testifying about the neglect of the children there. We met at a restaurant on the upper east side to discuss his distress. Being a whistleblower and speaking out about how children are not getting the education they should, is a difficult road. In fact, I demanded he meet me there, after he called me in a panic. I would not let him leave until he promised me he was ok. We spoke about the NYC DOE, his NYSUT attorney, his love of being a teacher, everything.

How can I show what a loving and wonderful teacher James was?
His portfolio Part 1
His portfolio Part 2
His portfolio Part 3

I have never met a person who was energized by love to the extent that James was. He loved the children he taught, the children in his schools at the New York City Department of Education, his friends, music, playing the piano, his family. He was adorable, funny, a loyal and great friend, wonderful teacher, talented artist. Nothing I write here can fully capture the man I knew and loved, but he will always be in my heart.

Rest in peace, dear friend.

City 'Ignored' Legionnaires' Death of Bronx Teacher in April, Family Says
By Murray Weiss | August 6, 2015 11:47am
LINK

THE BRONX — A music teacher who worked with special needs children in a South Bronx public school near the center of the Legionnaires' disease outbreak died from the illness in April, DNAinfo New York has learned.

James Rouse's family claims the city failed to investigate the 52-year-old's death, which could possibly have prevented the outbreak that has killed ten more people and sickened nearly 100 over the past month.

“My brother was the canary in the coal mine and the city ignored his death,” said John Rouse, a Suffolk County civil court judge and former prosecutor.

James Rouse taught at The Urban Science Academy, P.S. 325, on Teller Avenue. A nationally known pianist and marathoner, Rouse died April 30 at Beth Israel Hospital, roughly a week after being diagnosed with Legionnaires' Disease.

“Had the city looked at his case when it was happening to him, and tried to speak with him while he was alive, or even conducted a proper investigation afterwards, they might have been able to prevent those seven people from dying,” John Rouse told “On The Inside” before the other deaths were reported by the city.

“We believe the city was absolutely asleep at the switch, and that it took 80 people to become ill before they started to look at this,” he said.

The Health Department did not immediately comment but said they were looking into the matter. (See Update Below).

James Rouse performed at The Pierre Hotel and Tavern on the Green before embarking on a personal mission to help mentally and physically challenged school kids, according his family.

He grew up in Port Jefferson on Long Island, attended Catholic schools and went to Ithaca College School of Music on a scholarship. He graduated at the top of class and received his Masters in Special Education at a special ceremony at Avery Fischer Hall in Lincoln Center, his brother said.

Motivated by his admiration for a teacher who had inspired him, Rouse decided in 2001 to combine his two passions — music and working with special needs kids — and got a job teaching music. Two years ago, he transferred to P.S. 325, taking the subway from his Chelsea home to, and from, the Concourse Plaza station, which is now at the epicenter of the Legionnaires' outbreak.
Rouse, who never missed a day of work, became slightly feverish and sluggish, his brother said. But he continued showing up to teach until the school principal insisted he return home.

Within days, Rouse was admitted to Beth Israel on April 22.

His physicians determined quickly that he had Legionnaires' disease, his brother said. Yet even on days when Rouse weakened, doctors assured his family he should recover.

Then, on April 30, he died.

“I will never forget the phone call,” John Rouse said. “I was shocked and surprised. The only obstacle they had been talking about was a discharge plan.”

For weeks, John Rouse said his family persisted in reaching out to Health Department representatives. They wanted answers how a healthy man could suddenly fall fatally ill. But city officials “simply ignored my brother's case."

The Rouses tried to do their own sleuthing. They filed Freedom of Information requests to learn where other Legionnaires' cases occurred in the city. But each request was rebuffed.

On June 5, they made yet another call to the Health Department “to get an update,” but were told by a supervisor that there was virtually nothing the agency would do unless a pattern of other cases showed up — in the same building.

“He then said, 'The case was closed,'” John Rouse explained. “We were told they did not have the resources.”

"This is a complete farce," he continued. “They could have been all over the school before he died, or at the hospital talking to him while he was still alive.”

In early July, the Rouses reached out again to get the city's attention, only to be told no other cases surfaced where James lived in Manhattan.

They were dismayed at the lack of action — particularly since his brother was not only a city employee but worked with school children, and questioned whether proper protocols exist.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that the city was working on legislation to check the cooling towers atop buildings where the legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease grows and can be spread.

? FAQ: What is Legionnaires' Disease?

John Rouse said he was stunned when de Blasio and Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the fatalities were only people who were either elderly or had pre-existing medical issues.

His brother was a marathoner.

And he became angry watching the mayor's press conference Tuesday where he pulled out charts insisting the outbreak started on July 12.

“I have the ashes of the person who contracted this disease in April, and he worked for the city, and in that area,” John Rouse said. "If my brother was the beginning of this, then all that came afterwards could have technically been prevented. And these were preventable deaths.”

Rouse said his family wants "to find out what the city knew to hopefully prevent something like this from happening again.”

UPDATE:

Late Thursday, a Health Department spokesman insisted his agency “investigates every single case of Legionnaires’ when it is reported to us," and that DOH did not "rebuff" the Rouse family.

“We speak to either the patient or a close family to assess environmental exposures that could be the source of infection. In this case we interviewed the patient’s sister (on May 5) since the patient had unfortunately died before we able to speak with him. (There) were multiple conversations in the months that followed," he wrote.

An investigation was undertaken to identify sources of exposure. None could be identified. Proper protocols were followed.

In Memory of James Rouse


 

Robert Freeman, Director of the Committee on Open Government, and His Fight Against Government Secrecy


Robert Freeman

Capitol Case: Robert Freeman’s Enduring Fight Against Government Secrecy
LINK
ProPublica, Aug. 7, 2015, 8 a.m.

         Robert Freeman has been helping people extract public information from New York state agencies for four decades. He is the executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, a division of the New York Department of State that advises the public on the Freedom of Information Law — the state statute authorizing access to public records.

While Freeman gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo credit for making a substantial amount of state data available online, he says the administration has been slower and more difficult than any previous administration in responding to formal Freedom of Information requests.

Several ProPublica reporters have recently experienced delays and resistance from New York state agencies in responding to such requests. Joaquin Sapien has spent the last several weeks reporting on violent crimes perpetrated by youngsters living in group homes throughout New York City. Last week, he received a response to a request for inspections of the homes and enforcement actions made against their operators from the Office of Child and Family Services. The response came two weeks past the 20-day-deadline and said the agency needed an additional 75 business days to fulfill the request.

Meanwhile, ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell has fought a three-year legal battle with the New York Police Department trying to obtain records on the department’s use of X-ray surveillance machines.

Freeman agreed to participate in a Q&A with Sapien. In it, Freeman, 68, draws on his experience working under seven different governors to speak to such delays in the release of public information and their underlying causes.

The transcript of the Q&A has been edited for clarity and space. (Listen to the full interview below or on SoundCloud.)

Sapien: What is the Committee on Open Government? How did it start? And how’d you get involved?

Freeman: The committee is a creation of the state’s Freedom of Information Law, which was initially enacted in 1974. And it came about, in fact, as the result of commentary by members of the news media. The news media pushed for the creation of some sort of an oversight body.

That led to an amendment to the original enactment to create what was then called the Committee of Public Access to Records. Our function really is quite simple. We give advice and guidance, either verbally or in writing, to anybody who has a question about public access to government information. The staff is tiny; it’s myself and one other. I describe this office as the smallest state agency that actually does anything and leave the rest to people’s imagination.

Sapien: Governor Cuomo, when he was running in 2010, pledged to usher in a new era of transparency, saying, “We must use technology to bring more sunlight to the operation of government.” Has he lived up to that promise?

Robert: The truth is, in relation to technology, in many ways, the answer is yes.

The governor has initiated an executive order which deals with open data, making data available online that is usable in ways that most of us can’t imagine. Certainly, there’s much more that is available online than in the past.

But then again, when it comes to the typical freedom of information request, state government has engaged in too many instances, in my opinion, in unnecessary and unwarranted and unreasonable delays.

Sapien: Has that been happening more now than before?

Freeman: I think it has but it has for a variety of reasons. Number one, Freedom of Information Law, I used the term FOIL before, it is part of the language in New York.

Our website receives literally millions of hits every year. People know about it and they use the law. That, I think, represents something of a cultural difference between New York and other places in this country, and in the world for that matter.

We fight City Hall. We make lots of requests. That has resulted, in some instances, in delays. In other situations, my belief is that delays have occurred due to, let’s say, a failure on the part of many to have the ability to act independently.

Sapien: What’s at the root of that failure? Is that a cultural issue within this administration, that’s particular to this administration?

Freeman: Every administration has wanted to exercise a degree of control. Some more than others. In my view, this administration seeks to do so more than its predecessors.

Sapien: Give us some examples of that.

Freeman: There are any number of situations in which agencies receive requests and are told that they really should not respond until they have an OK from the executive chamber. If you deal with press people at state agencies, you know that it’s difficult to get quick answers from them.

Once upon a time, and I’ve told this many times, years ago, I had a friend who worked here in Albany at the Capitol. I said to him, “There’s a significant story on every floor of every state agency building. You just have to get it.”

Back in the olden days, you could just walk into a state agency and talk to people. You can’t do that anymore. Generally speaking, the average state employee cannot talk to the press.

Sapien: Is it true, then, that information is more tightly controlled under the Cuomo administration than it has been under previous governors?

Freeman: I think that that is true.

Sapien: I want to bring up a specific example of Mr. Cuomo’s approach toward public records with regard to preserving and disclosing emails.

Apparently, he has adopted a controversial tactic of allowing or maybe even encouraging staffers to conduct official business on private email accounts. My colleague Justin Elliott has written about it.

Freeman: As I mentioned earlier, our law was enacted in its initial form in 1974. It was completely revised in 1978. When we were drafting the amendments in ’77, we tried to correct what we perceived to be deficiencies in the federal act. One of the deficiencies that exists to this day is that the federal Freedom of Information Act does not define what a federal agency record is.

The truth is [New York] got lucky. We got lucky. We drafted a definition of the term “record.” At the time, think about the late ’70s, high tech was an electric typewriter. We used carbon paper to make copies. There was no such thing as the (commercial) Internet or email. But since ’78, our law has dealt with all agency records. And the term record has been defined expansively to mean any information in any physical form whatsoever kept, held, filed, produced, or reproduced by, with, or for a government agency.

If I go home and I sit down at my home computer and I use my personal email address and I communicate with you in my capacity as an employee of the Department of State, that is a Department of State record. It falls within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law and, like any other record, its content would determine what’s public and what’s not.

The question came up years ago, “Are those communications covered by FOIL?” The answer, based upon the definition of the term record, is clearly yes.

Sapien: Do you get the sense that public officials are doing this on purpose, that using a private email account will make it more difficult for people to get their hands on those records in the future?

Freeman: Sometimes, that may be so. The truth is, we heard about that in the Bloomberg administration. We’ve heard about it many times since. Whether that is done purposefully, or with knowledge of FOIL or not, I don’t know. I don’t know and I think it will vary from one situation to the next.

Sapien: Taking it back down to a local level, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York also ran on a campaign of openness and transparency. How does he stand on answering open records requests? What are you hearing about that?

Freeman: I’ve been somewhat disappointed. You might know that when Mr. de Blasio was public advocate, he engaged in what amounted to a freedom of information audit of New York City agencies. He put out a report which consisted, by and large, of a report card where city agencies were graded relative to their compliance or absence of compliance with FOIL.

Based upon that interest, my hope was that, with the new mayor, the implementation of FOIL would improve in New York City. I don’t see that that has happened.

Sapien: What’s the evidence that it hasn’t happened?

Freeman: Again, there are any number of situations in which a request will be made and the agency engages in what I would consider to be unreasonable delays. There have been other situations in which I believe that they have engaged in unreasonable denials of access. For better or for worse, it is not uncommon.

Sapien: The NYPD has long frustrated the press and advocates with its obstinance on public records. I’ll give you an example from our very own reporter, Michael Grabell.

In January of 2012, Michael was writing about xray machines used by law enforcement. He learned that the New York Police Department was using them, and that the machines have raised serious civil rights and privacy concerns, and radiation from the machines has been linked to health problems.

He submitted a FOIL request. He asked for some basics: How many xran vans the police had, the after action reports, documents regarding policy and procedure, things like that.

For three years, Grabell and the department went back and forth with appeals and denials. Finally, in December 2014, a New York County judge ordered the police department to produce some of what he’d been asking for.

Now, the police have appealed to a higher court. The soonest a ruling could come would be in January of 2016. So that’s one request, four years of legal drama, and still no records. How common is that?

Freeman: Several points to be made. In terms of the delay, I mentioned earlier that the Committee on Open Government submits a report to the governor and the legislature. We offer legislative proposals. One of them is soon to go before the governor. It’s passed both houses of the legislature. It would deal with the issue of delay.

Any time somebody sues, the loser has 30 days to appeal. Thirty days to file a notice of appeal. Thereafter, it has a certain period of time within which it must perfect the appeal by filing a brief. It can be, in some cases, as much as nine months.

What you described happens far too frequently. We described the issue as access delayed is the equivalent of access denied. This bill would say, yep, the agency still has 30 days to appeal, but from there it has 60 days, not nine months, to perfect the appeal. If they don’t do that, the appeal would be deemed abandoned. That’s point one. We’re working on that. My hope is that that will become law within a very few weeks.

Sapien: So take us behind the scenes a little bit. I think reporters often wonder what these FOIL officers are doing when it takes months or years to respond to a request, often with a blanket denial.

Is this deliberate? Is it laziness? Is it a cultural problem? What’s going on in these state agencies when our requests go unanswered for so long?

Freeman: I think it’s a combination of all of those things. First of all, I do know, and I’m going to defend the agencies, we are as thin as we have ever been. The truth is that there are many, many agencies that simply can’t do as much work as they used to do not so long ago.

It’s an aging workforce. I’m an old guy. The truth is that people leave. They retire. They die. In too many situations, you don’t have people at the agency who have the ability to pick up the ball and carry out the duties, the functions in the same way.

Sometimes, yes, I think it is institutional resistance. Sometimes, it may be sloth. We just don’t want to go look for it. We don’t want to go through it. We don’t want to do what the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, has told us. And in fact, you used the phrase that the court used. The court rankled when the New York City Police Department engaged in what it called, “The blanket denial of access.”

FOIL says that all government agency records are available except those records or portions of records that fall within a series of exceptions. There are any number of situations in which some elements of a record, even on a single page, will be public. Others might justifiably be withheld. But it is unusual that the entirety of the page, of the document, will justifiably be withheld.

FOIL says, at least the way I see it, very basically that all records are available except those records or portions of records that fall within a series of exceptions. Those exceptions are based upon common sense.

All the law really should ever say is that everything is available except to the extent that disclosure would hurt – either somebody in terms of an invasion of privacy, the government in terms of its ability to do its job well on behalf of the public or, on occasion, a private company visàvis its competition.

The real question in so many instances is, “What would happen if we had to disclose?” And unless the answer in the gut is, “Ouch, this would really hurt,” disclosure ordinarily should be the outcome. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but that’s what the law is about. In fact, the law specifies that the government has to meet the burden of defending secrecy.

Sapien: You’ve obviously been outspoken and in favor of disclosure for a long time now. You’ve helped a lot of people get records, many of whom in our own office.

Freeman: It’s hard to believe that they pay me to do this, actually. They don’t pay me very much.

Sapien: That’s what I’m getting to. Being a state employee, have you been the subject of criticism or backlash from your colleagues in state government?

Freeman: Not as far as I know. Behind closed doors, probably, but I think that there’s a recognition that to function at all this office has to be independent.

It’s interesting that you raise the question, because for all intents and purposes, my first real boss was Mario Cuomo, who above all, was a lawyer. He arrived as Secretary of State, his first government job, in 1975. I was pretty much a kid. I picked up the phone because it rang and answered people’s correspondence because it landed on my desk and offered what I believed to be the right answer under the law, regardless of the source of the question.

Things have not changed since then. This office has always been independent.

Sapien: So what’s the big picture lesson for folks who want to obtain public information? How do we heighten our chances of getting the most and the best information possible through our FOIL requests?

Robert: Number one, use our website. It’s easy to find. We’re the only Committee on Open Government in the world. You simply Google “COOG” and you’ll get there. We have an immense amount of material that’s available online. You scroll to “Freedom of Information Law.” There will be a box that says, “Advisory Opinions.”

We’ve written 25,000 over the course of years. They’re indexed by key phrase. Use them. You find an opinion that supports your point of view and you make a request. Attach it to the request so that you can show that you’ve done your homework, that it’s not you alone who wants it, that other people have wanted the same information in the past, that you’re referring to the language of the law, and usually judicial precedent to back you up.

The other thing that I think is absolutely critical, and I’ve said this a thousand times, I refer often to the statement offered by Judge Louis Brandeis 102 years ago. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That’s what you do. You shed light on situations.

Often, when you do, when you tell the world, either good things begin to happen or bad things stop happening. I think that the effort to continue to do that has to go on forever.

Help us investigate: If you have experience with or information about transparency in government, email joaquin.sapien@propublica.org.

Related stories: For more coverage, read ProPublica’s previous reporting on the Cuomo administration’s use of private email to conduct government business and our legal fight for New York Police Department records on X-ray surveillance machines.