ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Frustrated at obstruction to public records, a New York journalist investigating the “Buffalo Billion” economic development initiative has asked a judge to break the information logjam.
Buffalo Billion is the name given to a “historic” $1 billion investment in the Buffalo area that Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in late 2012.
A state website on the initiative says the effort will “create thousands of jobs and spur billions in new investment and economic activity over the next several years.”
With hopes that the state investment will leverage private money, the plan focuses on “high potential sectors,” including advanced manufacturing, tourism, and health and life sciences.
Buffalo-based news website Investigative Post claims in a May 18 lawsuit that its hunt for information on the effort led it to Fort Schuyler Management Corp.
The nonprofit’s website says it acquires, builds and manages state-of-the-art facilities as an affiliate of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute.
In its attempt to identify Fort Schuyler’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) access officer, Investigative Post soon found itself in a heated email exchange with Alain Kaloyeros, vice chairman of Fort Schuyler, according to the complaint in Albany County Supreme Court.
Investigative Post says Kaloyeros ultimately likened its requests to “acts of terrorism.”
In a Nov. 28, 2014, response to the FOIL quest, Carl Kempf, a vice president at SUNY Polytechnic and general counsel to Fort Schuyler, “took the position that ‘FSMC is not an agency (as defined under FOIL Section 86.3) and, therefore is not subject to FOIL,” according to the complaint.
But Investigative Post says the Committee on Open Government, an office within New York’s Department of State, issued an advisory opinion early this year categorizing Fort Schuyler as an “agency” subject to FOIL.
Fort Schuyler’s denial of this “is patently unsupportable,” Investigative Post claims, adding that Fort Schuyler “had no reasonable basis for denying access to the requested records.”
“Its denial of access to records under FOIL was a willful failure to perform its legal duties, irrational, arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law,” the complaint states.
Award-winning investigative reporter Jim Heaney began publishing Investigative Post in 2012 after his 25-year career at The Buffalo News ended in a buyout.
As editor and executive director of the website, Heaney says he was initially “extremely interested in how the Buffalo Billion process would play out: where would the money come from; where would it go; who was making these decisions; how the decisions were being made; and what oversight protocols were in place.”
Despite the use of public money, however, Heaney allegedly found that “the process was byzantine and far from transparent.”
Heaney says he was particularly interested in how L.P. Ciminelli and McGuire Development, two Buffalo-area developers, were selected as contractors for two “major Buffalo Billion projects.” Both have contributed thousands to Cuomo’s election campaigns, according to a footnote in the complaint.
The complaint notes Fort Schuyler’s Kaloyeros helped create a nanotechnology research and semiconductor manufacturing hub in the Albany area, much the way Gov. Cuomo said he’d like Buffalo Billion to boost the economy of western New York.
Kaloyeros also is founding president and CEO of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, once part of the University at Albany but now a stand-alone school. The college changed its name to SUNY Polytechnic Institute last year after merging with SUNY IT in Utica.
Heaney says that the documents that the SUNY Research Foundation gave him, many of which are heavily redacted, shed little light on the process that selected Ciminelli and McGuire as developers.
Investigative Post seeks a ruling that Fort Schuyler is subject to FOIL and compelling it to divulge the sought-after records. It is represented by Joseph Finnerty and Karim Abdulla of Hiscock & Barclay in Buffalo.
Neither Kempf nor Fort Schuyler chairman Jerry Barber have returned requests for comment.
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