GovernmentThe Examiner

Appellate Division Rules Against Mt. Pleasant in E-mail List Case

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The Town of Mount Pleasant may continue to fight a recent Appellate Division ruling that concluded the municipality must provide a resident the e-mail list of subscribers to its E-news bulletins.

 Hawthorne resident Jim Russell, pictured above, has once again prevailed in court in his hope to gain access to Mount Pleasant’s e-mail list. The town is weighing whether to take the matter to the state’s Court of Appeals.

Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi said the town is exploring its options with whether to go to the Court of Appeals in hopes of thwarting Hawthorne resident Jim Russell from gaining access to the list. A decision will need to be made in the next couple of weeks, he said.

Russell filed an Article 78 in state Supreme Court in May 2022 after a Freedom of Information request to the town for the list of the town’s e-mail subscribers was rejected several months earlier.

Russell said last week he was pleased with the ruling and questioned whether town officials should spend more money in legal fees to defend their position that has twice been rejected in court.

He also pointed to a 2016 Appellate Division ruling against the Town of Greenburgh that opposed one of their resident’s request to obtain that municipality’s e-mail list. Greenburgh was forced to provide the information.

“(They’re) trying to oppose better communication within the town about many issues that residents would benefit from or learn more about,” said Russell, who twice ran for Congress and was involved in a controversy over an old racially charged essay in his 2010 campaign.

More than two years he hoped to gain access to what was then about 2,000 e-mail addresses because of his opposition to key portions of the town’s updated Comprehensive Plan. The updated Comprehensive Plan was eventually adopted by the Town Board.

One of his arguments about that issue as well as a host of other projects in Mount Pleasant is that the town has failed to keep residents abreast of key matters until too late in the process, something that he would likely do if he gains access to the e-mail list.

Fulgenzi said the town has been in consultation with its attorneys to discuss next steps, but he maintained the town does not want to provide Russell the list.

“We’re not going to subject residents to e-mails from somebody that we have no idea what the use could be for,” Fulgenzi said. “When (residents) sign up for the town e-mail, they don’t sign up to have their e-mail shared with the public. You sign up to get information directly from the town.”

The supervisor said he was also trying to use the town’s list to sway public opinion on the Comprehensive Plan. Russell had opposed the town’s effort to allow for second- and third-floor apartments above ground-floor commercial in Mount Pleasant’s downtown hamlets.

“So it’s not that he’s doing it to promote the town in any way,” Fulgenzi said.

In its May 29 decision, the Appellate Division concluded that the town failed to show how its privacy interests outweighed the public interest.

The court stated that the petitioner seeks to communicate with other residents “by obtaining the names and email addresses of residents who subscribe to E-news, persons who have willingly divulged that information to the Town so that they may receive news and information, in electronic form, on matters of public concern. The Town’s contention that public disclosure of the requested documents could
‘expose the email addresses’ of the E-news subscribers or the town to ‘unnecessary cybersecurity risks’ is speculative.”

The state Supreme Court had stated in its 2022 decision that Russell is entitled to the list upon request as long as he does not use the information for any commercial purposes, solicitation or fundraising efforts.

Russell said the town’s concerns about privacy and having residents bothered by e-mails from a variety of sources is overblown.

“Everyone benefits from this and the only nuisance is one click of the mouse to delete something,” he said.




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