Getting information about local government operations can be a daunting task, but legislation is in place which provides both the public and the press access to that information. Over the last few weeks, The Evening Sun staff has put our local governments to the test to see who would and would not comply with the Sunshine Laws regarding openness in government.
Every March, one week is dedicated to celebrating the Sunshine Laws that are meant to keep government transparent and accessible to the public. To prepare for this week, Evening Sun staffers decided to test our local municipalities and school districts. We each sent out Freedom of Information requests to towns, villages, the county the city and all of the school districts in Chenango County.
There were snags from the start, especially because of the part-time nature of some town and village clerks. It was startling to find out which municipalities do not have access to e-mail and that some don’t even have a fax machine.
The FOIL requests were sent out via fax, e-mail and U.S. mail, but the information asked for was the same. In each, we requested the names, positions and salaries of all municipal and district employees, including elected officials. Despite the uniformity of the question, the responses we received varied greatly.
Some of the agencies which received the request were quick to comply, sending responses in a matter of hours or the next day. Reporter Tyler Murphy said he received most responses within one or two days, and even received one response from the Village of New Berlin less than two hours after he sent the original request.
Most had a few questions about how we wanted the information presented. A few wanted to know if we preferred overtime and other additional pay added in, or kept separate. It quickly became obvious that some had the information at the ready, while others had to spend time compiling the data.
Even what person responded to the request was notable in some cases. In several towns, including Coventry and Afton, it was the town supervisor who accessed the information rather than the town clerk.
While many of the agencies contacted were more than helpful, others bristled at the request or did not respond at all. Several of the individuals contacted wanted to know why the information was being requested, although the reason has nothing to do with whether a request can be approved or denied.
One school district actually said it would take them more than a month to assemble the data requested, but then provided it within the specified time. Unfortunately when it came it was piecemeal, with no titles attached to the names and salaries.
Others did not want to provide the names of the employees as part of the information requested. The Town of North Norwich originally omitted the names of town employees, saying the town was not required to release them. Later that day, the information was released, in compliance with the law.
The Norwich City School District provided its information promptly, but also took the precaution of notifying their staff that we had requested the salary details.
The Town of Pharsalia never confirmed receiving a FOIL request, and despite repeated phone calls and messages, no information was ever provided. A request was faxed to the Town of Sherburne, but no response was received, and no indication was given as to whether town officials ever received the request.
While most of those who received information requests responded quickly and with little hesitance, the information received from those agencies varied greatly. Some agencies sent the actual amount employees had made in the last year, including overtime, bonuses and stipends. Others sent only the base salary figures and still others sent their employees’ hourly pay rates with no indication to the number of hours the employee generally worked.
Overall, Chenango County passed the test. Most of the information requested was received and the majority of individuals who were contacted seemed willing to answer questions and help staff members through the process.
Staff Writers Melissa Stagnaro and Tyler Murphy contributed to this story.
Below are some of the results we gathered, for public employees making over $75,000 a year:
Afton Central School Superintendent Betty Briggs $114,789.00
Afton Central School HS Principal Dave Glover $ 78,740.00
Afton Central School Bus. Mgr/Treas. Ken Howard $ 75,219.00
Bainbridge Guilford CS Superintendent Karl Brown $112,750.00
Bainbridge Guilford CS Asst. Super (Bus.) Ken Wilco $101,577.10
Bainbridge Guilford CS Elem Principal Richard Howard $ 90,038.00
Bainbridge Guilford CS MS Principal Victoria Gullo $ 89,237.00
Bainbridge Guilford CS Elem Principal Michele Shirkey $ 80,860.47
Bainbridge Guilford CS HS Principal William Zakrajsek$ 80,144.00
Greene Central School Superintendent Gary Smith $136,070.00
Greene Central School Primary Principal Carole Stanbro $ 92,521.00
Greene Central School MS Principal Judy Gorton $ 81,657.00
Greene Central School HS Principal Terry Heller $ 77,628.00
Norwich Central Schools Superintendent Gerard O’Sullivan $151,086.31
Norwich Central Schools HS Principal (Res)Thomas Knapp $126,669.46
Norwich Central Schools Dep. Super Margaret Boice $121,412.38
Norwich Central Schools MS Principal Lisa Schuchman $ 95,371.99
Norwich Central Schools Gibson Principal Dara Lewis $ 95,075.40
Norwich Central Schools Dir Inst/Staff Dev. Iraina Gerchman $ 86,821.62
Norwich Central Schools PB Principal Heather Collier $ 76,770.13
Norwich Central Schools Athletics Director Stephen Griffin $ 76,182.64
Norwich Central Schools School Psychol. Ruthann Lawton $ 75,030.76
Oxford Academy Superintendent Randall Squier $118,400.00
Oxford Academy Business Mgr Harold Covey $ 97,575.00
Oxford Academy HS Guidance Virginia Pluta $ 86,303.00
Oxford Academy MS Guidance Susan Franco $ 79,872.00
Oxford Academy PS Principal Tim McDonald $ 77,500.00
City of Norwich
Police Chief Joseph Angelino $91,884
DPW Superintendent Carl Ivarson $90,786
Fire Captain Franklin $77,309
Finance Director William Roberts $77,146
Sherburne-Earlville Central School
Assistant Superintendent Tom Strain $136,931
Superintendent Gayle Hellert $135,308
Elementary Principal John Douchinsky $86,696
Middle School Principal Nanette Greeno $80,000
Otselic Valley Central School
Superintendent Larry Thomas $106,615
High School Principal Scott Poreda $75,385
Village of Sherburne
Electric Assistant Superintendent Travis DuBois $88,000
Superintendent of Public Works Thomas Turner $79,485
Unadilla Valley Central School District
Superintendent Robert J. Mackey $135,100
High School Principle Johnson Franklin $80,038