Melinda Katz sued by filmmaker over FOIL request

Melinda Katz sued by filmmaker over FOIL request
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gina Martinez

Borough President Melinda Katz has been sued by a Queens filmmaker who claims she violated New York State’s Freedom of Information Law.

Robert LoScalzo, a media producer who is working on a documentary about Willets Point, alleges that Katz’s office did not respond to his request for information about two meetings held about street work in Willets Point The suit was filed Aug. 12 in State Supreme Court.
But Katz’s office said it did respond to his request.

The meetings, arranged by state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D- Corona), were held Jan. 29 and March 3. In attendance were City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Gene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, as well as representatives from the MTA, the city Economic Development Corporation, Fodera Foods at 129-02 Northern Blvd., House of Spices at 127-40 Willets Point Blvd. and Tully Construction at 127-50 Northern Blvd., among others. A DOT spokesman confirmed that at the meetings the agency requested $9.1 million as part of its budget submission for potential street reconstruction work in Willets Point.

Members of Willets Point United, a group that consists of property and business owners in the area, have advocated for years to improve the conditions of the area. According to LoScalzo, they were excluded from the meetings despite the groups many written request to attend, which received no reply from Katz’s offices.

“Any discussion about those horrendous city streets, or the possibility of repairing them, is of broad interest to scores of existing Willets Point businesses, their workers, and their customers who come from throughout the tri-state area,” LoScalzo said. “Having held two meetings concerning Willets Point, attended by members of the public, it is wrong of Katz’s office to stonewall residents of Queens who only want to know what their elected officials are doing on their behalf.”

After the meetings LoScalzo sent a FOIL request May 12. Katz’s’ office was obligated by law to at least acknowledge the request five days after receiving it, but did not. On June 4 he sent his appeal to Katz’s offices, Katz was obligated by law to resolve the appeal within 10 days after receiving it. Katz could have granted LoScalzo access to the records or have a written reason for denying access to records, but neither happened, according to LoScalzo.

“Ultimately, I received no response whatsoever from Borough President Katz’s office to my FOIL request or my appeal – a total and unscrupulous breach of FOIL,” LoScalzo said. “That leaves me with no legal recourse to obtain the records, except to petition for a court order as I am now doing.”

The borough president’s office disputed this.

“Our office was not served with any such suit from Mr. LoScalzo.” a spokeswoman for Katz said in a statement. “Our office received and responded to the FOIL request from Mr. LoScalzo, and there are currently no outstanding FOIL requests from Mr. LoScalzo.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.