If you regularly read news reports in the next few weeks, there's a good chance you'll be seeing the names of a pair of nonprofit organizations: Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and Fuller Road Management Corp.
These two entities are real estate development arms of the State University of New York, specifically the SUNY Polytechnic Institute. The organizations have been tangled up in the criminal corruption cases that resulted in several indictments in 2016 in connection with alleged bid-rigging schemes.
Trials in those cases are scheduled to take place this year, starting later this month.
Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars of state funds that have been channeled via Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road to do state projects, the records of these entities have not been as open as they should be.
An important bill under consideration in the state Legislature would help change that injustice.
Earlier this week, the state Senate's Investigations and Government Operations Committee unanimously approved S.4775A, a bill that would expand and clarify the state Public Officers Law to make it clear that agencies such Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road are subject to open records law. A companion bill has been introduced in the state Assembly.
In a statement of support for this measure, a large group of government watchdog organizations highlighted the importance of tightening New York's Freedom of Information Law to make it clear that nonprofits created by governments can't operate in the dark:
"The NYS Committee on Open Government recommended as a critical priority in its 2016 annual report that government subsidiaries and affiliates with a board of directors or similar managing structure, a majority of whose members are appointed by state and local officers, be made subject to FOIL. The Committee’s report identifies several court decisions that hold that not-for-profit organizations effectively controlled by government are already subject to FOIL.
"This bill establishes more precisely the criteria which makes government affiliates and subsidiaries subject to FOIL, and therefore improves access to government records and transparency."
The groups signed onto that statement included BetaNYC, Citizens Union, Common Cause - New York, Consumers Union, League of Women Voters of New York State, National Freedom of Information Coalition, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York Public Interest Research Group, Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Reinvent Albany and Sunlight Foundation.
Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road may be the most high-profile examples of these government-controlled nonprofits operating in New York state, but there are many such organizations out there doing important work. One organization in Cayuga County, the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council, appears to fall squarely under this category.
In general, we've seen the watershed council operate openly, as it should. But there's no guarantee that it would always be transparent as long as the open records law remains vague enough.
I encourage readers to check out the proposed legislation and urge their state lawmakers and the governor to get on board with making it law this year.