Werther, Strauss feud over freedom of information law

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Former Mineola Mayor Larry Werther said the village did not follow freedom of information law requirements during Wednesday's meeting. (Photo by Rebecca Klar)

Former Mineola Mayor Larry Werther said the village board denied him access to public records he had put in a Freedom of Information request for during Wednesday’s board meeting.

Mayor Scott Strauss and Village Attorney John Gibbons said that the board did not violate the law.

Werther said when he requested a list, later specified by Strauss as a list of commuter parking pass holders, he received a list “so severely redacted as to be useless.”

Strauss said the information was redacted because as a government the board needs to protect the privacy of residents.

“We felt it was a violation of their privacy to give out their addresses, their names and to some extent, I would argue their license plate numbers,” Strauss said. “I think that’s something we should keep private … we try to honor their privacy.”

Gibbons echoed Strauss words and said that the board did not and would not violate the law.

“We just don’t do that,” Gibbons said.

Werther said he reached out to Robert Freeman, the New York State Committee on Open Government executive director.

Werther said Freeman told him he is “100 percent entitled under law to that list.”

Strauss told Werther there is an appeal process he can go through, adding that he encourages him to do so.

Gibbons added that the “wonderful thing about the appeal process” is that it would include a letter from the village with a citation that would “differentiate the circumstances from those responded to by Mr. Freeman.”

Freeman told Blank Slate Media that the only situation in which the information would not be allowed to be made public is if it was for soliciting or fundraising.

Freeman also said that information, such as names and addresses, “is not so secret.”

For example, the names and addresses of registered voters are available online through the board of elections.

Werther also said that the board denied him other information he requested, including documentation about water quality.

Strauss said he believes the board follows freedom of information laws to “the letter of the law,” but said he encourages Werther to go through the appeal process if he feels otherwise.

Gibbons also said that through an appeal process the information would be reviewable and if Werther does not agree with the board’s determination of the appeal it can be reviewed by a court.

During the meeting, a resident, Elizabeth Henley, asked the board if the village would host a debate between the candidates.

Werther said the village had done so in the past; Strauss said it was the civic association that hosted it.

Werther said he is willing to debate.

Strauss asked Werther to keep the time to government questions to the board, not campaign matters.

Werther is on the My Home Party of Mineola ticket along with Regis and Christi Gallet.

The trio faces incumbents Strauss, Trustee Dennis Walsh and Trustee George Durham, all running on the New Line Party ticket.

Durham and Walsh previously beat Werther in a three-way race in 2013, when Werther lost his spot on the board.

Werther was elected as a trustee in 2003 and served as deputy mayor under then-Mayor Jack Martins. In 2011, after Martins was elected to the state Senate, the board voted to make Werther mayor.

Werther served out the rest of Martins’ term and ran for trustee that year when Strauss ran unopposed to succeed him as mayor.

During the meeting, Henley also brought up issues with the village’s property tax assessment system.

Henley said her village taxes go up every year.

“Why do you have to keep reassessing us,” Henley said. “It’s an unfair system.”

She added that the county does not reassess every year.

“I’m asking you to lay off it for a little while,” Henley said.

Strauss said that the village has an accurate system, adding that “if the county had an accurate system like we do they wouldn’t be in the financial mess that they’re in.”

Strauss also said that in some parts of the village the property taxes go down.

Henley also said she wanted to speak out against gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

“I can’t just sit on my sofa when these things keep happening over and over again,” Henley said.

Henley said this tragedy could have been prevented and would like to see the village pass a resolution banning assault weapons and “do something about safe gun control.”

New York State law prohibits manufacturing, transporting, disposing of or possessing an assault weapon in the state.

At the meeting, the board also unanimously voted to approve applicants Michelle and Jerome Vivona, directors of the American Theater Dance Workshop, to open up a studio at 500 Jericho Turnpike.

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