When the New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Services Coordinating Council was formed in the 1990s when the late Mario Cuomo was governor who could have imagined that less than 20 years later, his son and current governor, Andrew Cuomo, would do everything in his power to undermine and pulverize, not just the council’s ability to function, but the sense of safety and right-to-privacy citizens have when attending the TBISCC’s public meetings.
During a remarkably productive TBISCC meeting this Friday, this writer learned and attorney for the state’s DOH, Nicholas Cartagena (firstname.lastname@example.org) issued an email to a private citizen saying if she wanted copies of the council’s minutes she would need to file a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request. For the past two decades council minutes were made available to members of the public once approved by the council. They’d be available at the meetings or sent via email or regular mail.
There’s an even more ominous sign in Cartagena’s email. He says the TBISCC is part of the DOH and therefore it documents are subject to FOIL. This is the first time to this writer’s knowledge that a state official has blatantly claimed the council is part of the DOH and therefore the DOH runs the show. While this certainly appears to violate the legislation that formed the council; it unequivocally violates the purpose of the council, which, under this governor more than any other, seems to be the goal.
This is just one more example of Cuomo’s DOH doing all it can to be obstructionist, when it comes to the public’s right to know what it’s government and advisory councils to state agencies are doing.
Not only does a FOIL requirement violate the construct of the relationship the advisory council has with the public, it puts an unnecessary and punitive burden on people with brain injury disabilities.
- First: Submitting a FOIL request to the DOH is a laborious and time consuming process, largely because of the DOH’s at times blatant resistance and disingenuous posturing in response to the request. I recently submitted a FOIL request (after an email request to Deputy DOH Commissioner Mark Kissinger was ignored) asking who in the DOH was drafting the manual for the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver). After a month I was informed the DOH needed an additional month to gather the names. When the names identifying those creating the manual finally arrived, months after the FOIL was submitted, they were: Mark Kissinger, Lydia Kosinski, Maribeth (Knuckles) Gnozzio and Dawn Weiss, the latter three all directly under Kissinger. In other words, Kissinger and the DOH knew and had the requested information the moment it was asked for.
- Second: The DOH can legally charge 25 cents a page for documents provided as a result of a FOIL request, making it a financial burden for those on fixed incomes like, say, many New Yorkers with brain injuries.
Unless one’s been living under a rock, or, is severely delusional, it seems quite clear that Andrew Cuomo is New York’s version of New Jersey’s Chris Christie. He’s a bully. Something his father was not. He also doesn’t give a damn about New Yorkers with brain injury disabilities, a group of people his father genuinely cared about.
Perhaps when no one was looking, Cuomo took a pledge not to follow in his father’s footsteps. If so, he’s living up to it. I’ll give him that.