A memo instructing New York City agencies to forward public records requests to City Hall for review is not a bid for image control but just an effort to create consistency, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a radio interview Wednesday.
The review mandate, first reported on by The Associated Press, covers documents that "reflect directly on the mayor."
"Are you trying to micromanage your image by making city government less transparent?" WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer asked the mayor.
"Quite the opposite," de Blasio responded. "We obviously believe in the Freedom of Information law. We want it applied consistently, and we don't want to have a situation where some agencies are taking it seriously and others are not."
The mayor said he did not know who sent the email directive to about 60 city lawyers requiring that they submit documents for screening by City Hall attorneys two weeks before being sent on to the people requesting them. The May 5 email said documents "due to their level of attention, sensitivity or controversy could result in questions for City Hall."
Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the Committee for Open Government, a New York Department of State unit that oversees and advises on compliance with FOIL and other laws, said he didn't buy de Blasio's defense of the mandate.
"It's all about control," Freeman said. "It unnecessarily lengthens the process of responding to a request."
De Blasio as public advocate conducted an audit of how city agencies and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office responded to FOIL requests.
He said on WNYC that the City Hall reviews would streamline the city's responses to FOIL requests.
"What we're trying to do is have a single standard that ensures that agencies don't unnecessarily remove information that could be provided publicly and don't act too slowly to respond to the request," he said.
De Blasio's handling of how information is dispensed has been criticized before. The New York Press Club in a letter last September said the mayor should not limit reporters at some news conferences to "on-topic" questions.
"You have promised to run a 'transparent' administration," then-club president Larry Seary wrote. "But the conditions you set on virtually a daily basis are not transparent but opaque."