- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - A press association on Thursday warned New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to “tread cautiously” in having his lawyers review potentially sensitive or controversial public records requests.

New York Press Club President Steve Scott issued the statement after The Associated Press reported on a May 5 memo instructing 60 city lawyers to have the mayor’s attorneys review records requests that could “reflect directly on the mayor.”

“We ask that the mayor and his legal team tread cautiously, to ensure that the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Law are followed,” Scott said.

Transparency advocates have said such a policy, instituted by both President Barack Obama and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, could result in prolonged delays - a violation of open records law.

But administration officials have defended it, noting it’s not illegal for government officials to consult on requests before responding to them.

In a radio interview Wednesday, de Blasio denied the mandate was intended to micromanage his image and said he didn’t know who sent the memo.

“We obviously believe in the Freedom of Information Law and we want it applied consistently and we don’t want a situation in which some agencies are taking it seriously and some agencies are not,” he said.

City officials haven’t said what prompted the order, how many requests have been forwarded to City Hall since it was issued and what those requests were for.

But the memo instructed agency attorneys to forward a wide-range of documents to City Hall lawyers for review two weeks before sending the response to whoever asked for them. Included among them were requests that “due to their level of attention, sensitivity or controversy could result in questions for City Hall,” as well as requests that appear to have been made of multiple agencies and requests for so-called City Hall “equities” - that is, emails and memos to, from or about City Hall staff.

“Mayor de Blasio has promised the most transparent administration in city history,” Scott said. “But, sometimes, that transparency is very difficult to see.”

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