CPI heads group that sues U.S. Treasury for info on Oversight Board members
A lawsuit was filed in the New York District Court to demand information about the files related to the process of appointing the members of the Oversight Board, specifically the documents related to ethical conflicts and the financial disclosures that were required, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) announced.
The lawsuit — which also seeks other details of the creation of the entity by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act — was filed by the CPI, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the Center for Constitutional Rights against U.S. Treasury under the Freedom of Information Act.
Plaintiffs filed their original request for information in 2017, stating the Department of Treasury breached its legal obligation by not responding timely to the FOIA request, despite having admitted that it has located the documents.
The lawsuit outlines 15 types of requests that include criteria used to evaluate the members of the control board, which agencies intervened, the documents submitted by each candidate for the board, how the agency or other agencies established criteria and evaluated potential conflicts of interest, and any relevant information concerning the professional and personal background of each candidate that was used in their assessment, among others.
“Having access to these documents takes on new relevance when the re-nomination of current candidates is before the consideration of Congress and when the expiration of their term approaches in August,” said CPI Executive Director Carla Minet.
“In addition, a federal appeals court has said that the way in which the current members were appointed was unconstitutional, which makes our request and demand to understand how the vetting process for candidates was managed by Treasury more pertinent,” she said.
The Treasury’s delay in producing the documents adds to the refusal by the Fiscal Oversight Board to the petition for some of the same materials about its members, such as the financial disclosure reports, the CPI said.
In the lengthy process since the documents were requested through the FOIA law, the Treasury requested that the petition be limited, to which the CPI agreed without waiving its eventual right to maintain the original request.
The agency also indicated that it had to redact some of the documents before delivering them and promised to deliver them on dates it never complied with, in addition to denying an expedited process to process the request, the CPI stated
“Over the past two years, we have exhausted all administrative processes before the Treasury Department to obtain the information requested,” said Minet.
“Our request is for public information that above all should have been available from the beginning for the sake of transparency and accountability of an entity that was not elected and that operates by legal imposition of the U.S. Congress,” she added.
The refusal to answer our requests on basic aspects of a Board that, in essence, is controlling the destiny of our country is outrageous,” said Minet.
Meanwhile, Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, of LatinoJustice, said “the lack of transparency of both the Trump administration and the Fiscal Oversight Board appointed by the federal government has led us to have to sue to request basic information from that entity that should already be public.”
“The information we requested should have been shared with the people of Puerto Rico and the general public since the nominations for the board began almost three years ago,” she said.The lawsuit raises questions about the Fiscal Oversight Board’s formation process and the lack of transparency in the selection of its members. Precisely, Plaintiffs share the public’s concern about the background of some of the board’s members and their affiliations and how both have influenced the decision-making process and functions of the board.
Similarly, it raises concerns about the type of governance and accountability structures that exist, or the lack thereof, in the absence of effective citizen participation and lack of citizen oversight of the board’s conduct and policies.
The lawsuit asks the Court to turn over the requested documents and continue gathering all of the files that may fall into the scope of the petition. Furthermore, it seeks to prevent U.S. Treasury from continuing to deny those requests and cover all attorney costs and fees of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in this case, the CPI said.