Would you mind opening that door?
Ask a politician or bureaucrat a question and you might get an answer or you might not. Sometimes the answer you get might be for a question for which they have an answer, but not necessarily the one you asked. How do you get around this refusing and choosing? You submit a FOIA request. It stands for the Freedom of Information Act and is often spelled, and pronounced, FOIL with the A (act) replaced with an L (law).
Some of the most interesting information on our website is from FOIL requests. For example, the sewage spill chart and the list of people who had Ramapo sewers back up into their houses are from FOILed reports from Rockland County Sewer District #1 and the Town of Ramapo Clerk’s Office. The documents about the ice-cream maker bribe in the last election were FOILed from the County Board of Elections.
If you have a question, figure out what agency or official would most likely have the answer, and then call or visit their office to find out who handles the FOIL requests, or submit an e-mail request in the form of #2 below. Some agencies might not have switched over to email, so you might be faxing or mailing your request. The charge for the documents you get back is .25 per page for copying.
Committee on Open Government--general overview of the law and its applications
Email Request form for information from agency--cut and paste the form into your email
FOIL Frequently asked questions for email requests
Journal News article Government secrecy: myths and reality
The article presents a useful guide to some of the incorrect assumptions made by filers and officials such as: Does stamping a document "confidential" have any legal weight? (No); When an incident is under investigation, police cannot release any documents related to the investigation (Not always—the docs for the ice-cream maker offer were part of the investigation when we requested and got them).