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December 11, 2018

Mayor de Blasio didn’t provide emails with corrupt donor under FOIL requests — and claims wide latitude to delete messages

November 30, 2018
(L to R) Mayor Bill de Blasio and Jona Rechnitz appear in a photo as part of a court exhibit. (Court Document)

This felon keeps better records than Mayor de Blasio.




Court proceedings this week revealed the existence of additional emails corrupt donor Jona Rechnitz sent to Hizzoner that show how tight the two actually were, but which were not released to the press in response to Freedom of Information Law requests for his communications with Rechnitz.

That’s because the city didn’t “have” the e-mail to turn it over, de Blasio spokesman Eric Phillips said.

“It wasn’t in our possession or found during what was a very diligent search. It was from 2014, remember,” Phillips wrote on Twitter, adding that it wasn’t a “City Hall e-mail.”

All e-mails sent to a public official, whether to their work e-mail address or a personal one, are subject to the Freedom of Information Law if they’re about city business.

“If email is transmitted or received in so-and-so’s capacity of a government official, irrespective of its location, irrespective of whether it’s on their personal computer at home, in their office, it doesn’t matter, it’s still a record,” Robert Freeman, chair of the state’s Committee on Open Government and an author of the Freedom of Information Law, said.

And the e-mail at issue certainly was received in de Blasio’s capacity as a government official: Rechnitz was begging de Blasio for a meeting about the resignation of the ex-NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks.

“What can we do for you to refuse Banks’ resignation and get him back in? And for Bratton to see past Phil’s monstrous mistake?” Rechnitz wrote directly to de Blasio.

He testified that de Blasio offered to meet in person right away to discuss the issue.

But for some reason, City Hall didn’t hang on to that e-mail. Asked why, and whether it was deleted, Phillips said he did not know why it had not been retained.

“I have no idea where the email is, Jill. For the 4th time. Again, why would we intentionally hide or destroy it? It says precisely nothing that isn’t public (or that is particularly interesting, I’d argue),” Phillips wrote to the News on Twitter.

That Rechnitz had sought a meeting over Banks — which he says he got — had not previously been public.

Asked what records the city does retain, spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas said only “certain types” are kept — and blamed that on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been out of office for five years and whose FOIL policies de Blasio ripped when he was public advocate. Almost none of Bloomberg’s emails have been revealed, likely due to his use of a private e-mail address.

“City Hall only retains emails when they are certain types of public records, like audits, personnel actions, policy memos, final reports, or emails that are subject to ongoing information requests or litigation,” she said. “This is a Bloomberg-era email retention policy that has not changed. City Hall employees are under no requirement to retain every email ever written or received.”

But that is at odds with the city’s publicly posted records retention rules, issued by the Department of Records and Information Services, or DORIS. They require e-mails sent or received by policy makers to be retained for the length of their service, and then sent to the municipal archive. Even if de Blasio were deemed a non-policy-maker, his e-mails would need to be retained for eight years under the policy.




But Phillips said those rules don’t apply to de Blasio’s office.

“It’s DORIS’ opinion. City Hall legal counsel has a policy for City Hall and its employees,” he said.

That runs counter to the City Charter which gives DORIS the authority to establish standards for the disposition of records, and state law, which says “retention periods for records of New York City offices and boroughs are established by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS).”

“My understanding is that DORIS has the authority to develop records retention rules that have the force and effect of law,” Freeman told the News. “If that is true, and if there is no special provision concerning the mayor’s records, a policy inconsistent with those rules would be contrary to law.”

Asked for the separate policy that applies to the mayor’s office, City Hall sent a 606-page PDF, of which just two sentences were dedicated to mayor’s office emails — and which say that e-mails that aren’t a duplicate of other records required to be kept do not need to be retained at all.

On Twitter, Phillips accused reporters with questions about why that particular e-mail wasn’t save of being conspiracy theorists.

“Here’s one for you: WHY would we be lying about this particular email, which isn’t that interesting, when we’ve released thousands more, including those involving Rechnitz, many of which reporters have found much more newsy. The tin-hat take on this email doesn’t make any sense,” he wrote.

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