Did you know that New York State Law specifically exempts the governor from any obligation to keep records except “as are deemed by him of sufficient value for preservation” ? As Michael Keller at the New York World (an accountability journalism project covering city and state government, based at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism) reports the language of the state law has not changed since 1951.
When he left office in 2006 after three terms, Gov. George Pataki took liberal advantage of the law. He shipped the New York State Archives 12 years of press releases and nothing more – a sharp break from previous governors, who sent hundreds of cubic feet of potentially revealing internal documents and correspondence. The Archives holds records of official governors’ correspondence from 1905 to 1994 – and only from Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s 2007-2008 term since then.
Former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt introduced a bill in 1995 modeled on the Presidential Records Act, but the Buffalo Democrat encountered resistance from the Republican-controlled Senate during Pataki’s administration. To his credit Hoyt reintroduced the bill almost every year thereafter with no success.
In 2009, the Legislature passed a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin that would have given the state archivist jurisdiction over the governor’s records, including correspondence and internal documents, along with the power to make them publicly available. Gov. David Paterson vetoed the bill, asserting its fiscal impact would be too great. The following year, the Legislature passed the bill again – and Paterson again vetoed it during his final week in office.
The Times Union later urged Cuomo to call the Legislature to pass the bill again so he could sign it. He did not follow the advice. It’s also not clear whether the Cuomo administration is now in compliance with Paterson’s executive order; apparently his office did not respond to repeated requests for comment. In addition to not changing Patterson’s executive order there is a dispute as to whether Cuomo has turned over to the state archives office documents regarding his four year tenure as Attorney General.
Should state law be changed to require a Governor to turn over records such as official correspondence and internal documents to the New York State Archives?