Ellenville Thumbs its Nose at Freedom of Information Law; Activist Landlord Dies
The Village of Ellenville disregarded a formal appeal by Carol W. LaGrasse on December 26, 2003 seeking records related to citations on rental properties in the village, even though the appeal was accompanied by a December 18, 2003 official advisory opinion signed by Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director of New York State's Committee on Open Government, confirming the validity of the compliance terms asserted by LaGrasse. Ellenville had dictated that LaGrasse pay an "administrative fee" in addition to a fee for photocopying, in order to be given copies of the relevant documents. New York law restricts the copying fee to a maximum charge of twenty-five cents per photocopy. Ellenville failed to acknowledge LaGrasse's appeal. The only remaining route of appeal would have been a costly, time-consuming Article 78 proceeding in State Supreme Court. LaGrasse had intended to study the FOIL response to see whether landlords were receiving consistent treatment in the village's issuance of citations. Paul T. Johnson, the soft-spoken activist owner of a number of a charming historic group of small rental properties occupied by moderate and low-income families in Ellenville, who had faced numerous citations, some seemingly inscrutable, died of a stroke in early November. His patient letters to the editor about the ironies and injustices he endured in Ellenville are posted on the PRFA web site.