The Town of Hamburg again has refused to release a secret settlement it reached with a former assistant police chief.
The Town Board approved the retirement of Assistant Chief Stephen E. Mikac behind closed doors June 25. The retirement ended a disciplinary hearing against Mikac, who was facing departmental charges.
But the town refuses to make the settlement available to the public. It denied a Freedom of Information request from The Buffalo News for the contract, and now has denied The News' appeal of the decision to keep the contract secret.
The appeal was denied for the same reasons the original request was. Deputy Town Attorney Brian F. Attea, the town's Freedom of Information Law appeals officer, cited Freedom of Information Law and the New York Civil Rights Law.
But Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, and an expert on the Freedom of Information Law, said there are no legal grounds to withhold the settlement.
"I know of no situation in which a contract between a governmental entity and a present or former public employee would be anything but public. Taxpayers' money is being spent and the public clearly has the right to know the amount and the terms," Freeman said.
Supervisor Steven Walters denied the town is acting illegally
He said that since Freeman does not know what is in the contract, he is not in a position to say whether it should be released or not.
Freeman said there are two rulings by the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court that determined agreements involving municipal employee separations or retirements are accessible. And in a case involving a Brockport police chief, the court found that a confidentiality clause "offends public policy" and "cannot stand," he said.
In refusing to release the contract, the town cites a provision of the law that says a town can deny access of records that would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
The town is defending claims against it, Mikac and others, Attea notes in his letter.
"The rights of Mikac, the town and certain named co-defendants to fairly and adequately defend such claims would be impaired or compromised by the disclosure of the documents," he wrote.