The Massapequa Water District (MWD) filed a complaint last week against Robert Ripp, Massapequa resident and retired NYPD officer, asking for an injunction to block anymore Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests from him. According to the complaint, Ripp has requested more than 4,000 documents over the past two years, leading to more than 100 hours of work by the district to collect the information.
“Primarily, he’s been on a FOIL barrage,” said Michael Ingham, attorney for the water district. “He’s created a hostile work environment at the district by his use of social media to slander and libel Superintendent [Stan] Carey. Superintendent Carey was constrained to file a lawsuit against Mr. Ripp. He was given a preliminary injunction in the summer of 2018, which forced Mr. Ripp to remove those posts and prohibited him from making any other posts.”
Ripp, who has appealed against that injunction, has used his platform on Facebook and Twitter to criticize the MWD and Town of Oyster Bay (TOB) on multiple occasions. His attorney John Palmer says Ripp has often sought records from the MWD and has been “thorough and persistent” about getting answers to his questions. Recently, he discovered that Carey’s legal fees for the libel suit were reimbursed by the MWD Board of Commissioners.
“I submitted nine individual requests, all for documents associated with the MWD commissioners adoption of the resolution approving the reimbursing of the superintendent for his legal fees,” said Ripp in an email to the Massapequa Observer.
Ingham said early last week that the water district still intended to comply with Ripp’s requests while the complaint is pending review. As of Monday morning, Ripp was able to retrieve seven of his first eight requests. The eighth request, according to documents obtained by the Observer, asked for a copy of the Aug. 8, 2018 MWD meeting executive session minutes where the reimbursement was discussed.
The water district stated in a document following the processing of these requests that he was asking for something they already handed over to him, but Ripp claims that what he has received was just the general meeting minutes that does not include the minutes of the executive session. Ripp said that he is appealing this decision to not follow through with his request. It is not known yet if his ninth request was processed.
Palmer stated that while the right for Ripp to send FOIL requests to the water district is the main debate around this case, he also feels like that questions around the reimbursement are worth bringing up.
“How can it be that a municipality is financing a lawsuit by an individual against a resident,” said Palmer. “If a public official can sue a private resident and the legal fees are paid by the taxpayers, that’s tremendous power.”
Ingham was adamant that the payment to Carey fell in line with the water district’s harassment policy. He explained that it is meant to protect employees from being badgered for the work they do for the district, and they saw Ripp’s comments and the associated lawsuit falling under those guidelines.
“Once Mr. Carey had a likelihood to succeed on the merits, we reimbursed him for his attorney fees,” said Ingham. “We believe we have a duty to protect our staff and our management from a hostile work environment. We believe Mr. Ripp created a hostile work environment and we had a duty to protect Mr. Carey.”
Ripp has been accused of slander in the past. Former Town of Oyster Bay employee Linda Herman alleged that Ripp harassed her during her time as secretary to the town clerk, where one of her roles was handling FOIL requests from the public. She also sued the Town of Oyster Bay for failing to protect her against this harassment. Both cases are still pending.
The water district pointed out that Ripp is not even in their service area, saying that he is covered by New York American Water. However, Ripp feels, as a citizen of Massapequa and the Town of Oyster Bay, that he has a right to ask questions about what’s happening there.
“The MWD is an improvement district within the TOB,” said Ripp in the same email. “It is an extension of the town government. I am a resident of the town. The town board approves the district budget, provides bonds, has the power to set water rates and appoint commissioners among other things.”
The Freedom of Information Law allows residents and other entities to request information that is not released to the public from local government and their municipalities.