Lawsuit may hold MTA in violation of Freedom of Information Law over payroll disclosure

Morning commuters are seen at the subway station, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Brooklyn, New York
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Empire Center for Public Policy plans to take the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to court for allegedly violating the Freedom of Information Act for failure hand over payroll records of MTA cops to the government transparency group.

Having waited since January for their request to be fulfilled, the Empire Center had sought to make the payroll information searchable on their database, SeeThroughNY.net, but the agency allegedly supplied an incomplete list by withholding names, titles and pay amounts for some officers.

Tim Hoefer, CEO of the Empire Center, claims it could be dangerous for the public to not have full knowledge of what kind of police for the MTA is employing as the movement for police reform nationwide marches forward. According to the organization, average pay in MTA PD for officers and civilians alike is about $127,540.

“This is yet another example of a government agency trying to hide behind the Freedom of Information Law instead of following it,” said Hoefer. “The idea that the public shouldn’t be allowed to know how many police officers there are or how much they are paid is outrageous.”

In a similar Freedom of Information suit from 2015, the MTA was ordered by a judge to cover the legal fees for the Empire Center’s court battle against them for failure to respond to FOIL requests in a timely manner, the organization said. Hoefer at the time said that this had been commonplace between the organization and the MTA “for years.”

“The MTA has more than 70,000 employees and provided salary information for all of them.  Fewer than 20—out of 70,000—were represented in aggregate rather than individually as they are MTA Police officers involved in sensitive missions and disclosing details about them would pose a threat to the security of the MTA system. We will not apologize for responding with maximum transparency while also protecting the safety and security of employees and customers.” said Patrick Warren, MTA Chief Safety Officer in a statement.

The movement to reform and defund the NYPD still weighing heavy on advocates of criminal justice reform, the MTA’s goal of hiring 500 cops to scour stations, trains and buses for fare beaters as well as curbing other forms of crime remains controversial. In January, the MTA adopted its 2020-2024 capital plan that included $249 million for hiring blitz and came under fire in regard to the estimated amount lost to fare evasion: $200 million.

While the MTA argued in pre-pandemic days that this was to combat an uptick in crime, they have now placed a hiring freeze across the entire agency as they approach a $10 billion deficit and has shelved its 2020-2024 capital plan.

As the MTA continues to fry bigger fish in form of revenue and personnel loss from COVID-19, it is unclear whether or not they will receive enough federal aid and a full rebound in ridership in the foreseeable future.

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