Friday, November 10, 2006

M'Ville Proprietors Sue State Agency

Columbia Spectator
Home > News

M'Ville Proprietors Sue State Agency
Group Seeks Documents on Eminent Domain Inquiry

By Erin Durkin
Issue date: 11/10/06 Section: News

The West Harlem Business Group has sued a state agency for refusing to disclose information about the possible use of eminent domain for Columbia's proposed Manhattanville expansion, the group announced Friday.

The group, which represents Manhattanville business owners who have refused to sell their property to Columbia, filed a freedom of information request in June asking for records on the Empire State Development Corporation's agreement to look into the use eminent domain in Manhattanville.

But ESDC, the state's lead economic development agency, denied the request and a subsequent appeal, citing an exemption to the Freedom of Information Law for documents whose disclosure "would impair present of imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations."

At Friday's press conference, lawyer Norman Siegel, who represents the business owners, said that the state's refusal was illegal.

"The Freedom of Information Law says in essence that the business of government is the business of the people. The Empire State Development Corporation is stonewalling us and we won't tolerate it," he said, adding, "We will not allow this to be done in secret."

"Our lawyers are reviewing the court papers, and ESDC intends to vigorously defend this lawsuit," ESDC spokeswoman Vanessa Cuti said.The documents that ESDC declined to release are identical in scope to those made public after an earlier FOIL request by the group, but covering a later period of time.

The lawsuit states that "ESDC has suddenly ceased all disclosure as the project nears a more politically sensitive stage. In denying a second request for the identical categories for the next ensuing time period, ESDC has inappropriately applied a narrow statutory exemption in a blanket fashion."Philip van Buren, co-counsel on the lawsuit, said that the exemption to FOIL was not applicable because there was no competitive bidding taking place. "Their claim that no other documents exist except for ones pertaining to imminent contracts is simply not credible," he said.

"Columbia has not been open with us, the government has not been open with us," said business owner Nick Sprayregen, saying that freedom of information requests were the only way for he and others to stay informed about the possible condemnation of their businesses. University officials have said that while they hope to acquire the property in the expansion zone through negotiations, they will not rule out the option of eminent domain.

No comments: