We never thought it would be easy to collect and update the data we need to populate our transparency website SeeThroughNY. In fact, we make it a point to keep our expectations tempered because we know government agencies are, no doubt, juggling a lot of things.
But, at the same time, we need to weigh the rights of New York taxpayers to have access to how their tax dollars are spent.
And we carefully considered those two things while waiting for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to comply with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request we filed for payroll files. Our decision to sue the MTA wasn’t taken lightly, coming only after we had given the agency every opportunity afforded by FOIL — and more — to provide the data we had requested.
When the MTA didn’t comply, and it was overwhelmingly clear that this pattern, now six years in the making, wouldn’t end, we filed our Article 78 proceeding to compel action.
Our case was so strong that the MTA agreed to settle out of court, agreeing to provide the data and to pay the Empire Center’s attorney fees and costs associated with the filing of the lawsuit. It was less about the money and more about holding the agency accountable for providing information within the timelines prescribed by FOIL. After all, if this was happening to us it surely was happening to others who might not have the resources to risk thousands of dollars taking the agency to court.
The $2,680 check the MTA wrote to the Empire Center doesn’t sound like much in the context of the MTA’s $16.5 billion budget—but it nonetheless translates into nearly 1,000 basic transit fares. We’re confident the agency has learned a lesson here; even more important, an unmistakable signal has been sent to other New York government agencies.