State: Residents should have access to records

by Carol Thompson

Records of the Oswego County Orphanage that existed until the facility closed in 1956 are not all confidential, according to Robert Freeman, who serves as the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.

Frank Fisher of Florida had traveled to Oswego County to inspect some of the records held by County Historian Justin White and the Oswego Historical Society. Before making the long trip, he scheduled an appointment with White.

When Fisher arrived,  White did not show for the appointment and Fisher has been denied access to the records he sought.

Fisher, and any resident of the orphanage, are entitled to look at their own records, Freeman said. “They can’t invade their own privacy,” he said.

Freeman added, “They have the right to look at who visited them while in the home.”

A program that was handed out as a part of the orphanage’s centennial celebration in 1952 was also not made available to Fisher. Freeman said there is no legitimate grounds to deny access to the program if it exists.

Minutes of meetings are public, Freeman said, and that includes minutes from the beginning of county government.

There are certain records that must be permanent and must be made available. Among those records are the proceedings of meetings.

Freeman said a municipality can relocate records off premises but doing so does not exempt them from public inspection. The county retains ownership despite its location.

Fisher sent a letter to each of the 25 legislators in October in complaint of White. Fisher said he has yet to receive a response from any of the legislators but said he understood they may be busy working on the budget.

He noted that he will give them more time to respond before contacting them again and has no intention of giving up his quest to learn more about the place that was home for him during his childhood.

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