INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE
The City of New York
110 WILLIAM STREET, 14TH FL., NEW YORK, NY 10038
|For Immediate Release
December 21, 1998
|Contact: Herbert Block
* NEWS RELEASE *
INDEPENDENT BUDGET OFFICE WINS LAWSUIT AGAINST MAYOR
IBO - Joined by 16 Co-Plaintiffs - Wins Unfettered Access to City Information
In a significant victory for open government, New York State Supreme Court Justice Karla Moskowitz granted the summary judgment motion of the Independent Budget Office (IBO) in its litigation on access to city information. IBO's lawsuit against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani asked the Court to declare "invalid" a directive of the Mayor's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that prohibits City agencies from dealing directly with IBO without the screening of the Mayor's budget office. The Judge issued her ruling at a hearing on Friday afternoon, December 18th.
Justice Moskowitz read aloud a provision of the New York City Charter¾ emphasizing that the words mean what they say¾ authorizing the IBO Director to secure such information from city agencies as he deems necessary to carry out the functions of the IBO. She held that the Charter not only allows the IBO Director to determine the specific nature of the request but also the means by which the information is to be obtained. The Judge also said that no executive office has the authority to interfere with direct access by IBO to information from city agencies as it carries out its Charter-mandated duties. The Judge then struck down the directive.
"IBO was established as a way to democratize city government and put City Council Members and other elected officials on a more equal footing with the Mayor on budgetary and other fiscal issues confronting New York City," said IBO Director Douglas A. Criscitello. "The Court's affirmation of our authority to obtain any and all information that we deem appropriate from city agencies is a victory for all New Yorkers who care about open and efficient government."
Evan Davis, a partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, pro bono counsel to IBO and the sixteen other plaintiffs said, "By giving the full intended effect to the Charter language, the Court has frustrated the continuing effort to strangle the IBO and vindicated the Charter plan to open up the budget process."
While other lawsuits over access to information from city government have sought specific records or data, IBO's victory provides broader relief. Consistent with the Charter language, the ruling recognizes IBO's right to access all information necessary to assist elected officials in the discharge of their official responsibilities. IBO's clients, as specified in the Charter, are City Council Members, Borough Presidents, the Public Advocate, the City Comptroller, and the city's 59 Community Boards. IBO also provides analysis and information to civic groups, the media, and the public at-large.
"IBO's win is a victory for all who believe the City's constitution overrides the whims of any administration," said Public Advocate Mark Green. "Supreme Court Justice Moskowitz's decision for the IBO reaffirms what the courts decided a month ago in Green v. Safir: mayoral agencies must comply with the City Charter mandate to provide the Public Advocate, and now the IBO, with information without interference or pre-screening by City Hall. In this case, as in our successful case against the Police Department, the Charter designates that the independent official shall have timely access to those documents which are deemed necessary to do the work of the office."
"Shining light into the governmental process is the most democratic way for government to operate. IBO should be congratulated for enabling a new beacon of inquiry to be opened to the people of this city," said Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Council Member Sheldon Leffler added, "I hope the administration now provides the information that we have sought in this lawsuit and looks upon this as a precedent as a result of which it will furnish other information that other people and institutions have sought." Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group said, "Justice Moskowitz's decision is a huge victory for the city's taxpayers who want to know how their tax dollars are spent."
IBO was joined as co-plaintiffs by public officials and non-governmental organizations which need and use the analytical services of the agency: Public Advocate Mark Green; Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer; City Council Members Stephen DiBrienza, Thomas Duane, Ronnie Eldridge, Sheldon Leffler, Margarita Lopez, Bill Perkins, Phil Reed, and Angel Rodriguez; New York Public Interest Research Group; The City Project; Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development; Common Cause of New York State; Community Service Society of New York; and The City Club of New York.
A written order reflecting the Judge's decision is being drafted. For additional information on the legal aspects of the ruling contact Evan Davis at (212) 225-2850 or Carmine Boccuzzi at (212) 225- 2508 at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen, and Hamilton.
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