Robert Freeman, the long-time Director of New York State's Committee on Open Government is out. He was accused of sexually harassing a female reporter. Now, a month later, more women have come forward to complain about him.
With the change in leadership, people in New York State want - and need - better laws to protect their rights in making government transparent. And, employees who have higher morals and/or are monitored more closely.
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Expert's Ouster Provides Chance to Strengthen Public's Right to Know
The Buffalo News, By
Robert Freeman, NY open-government expert, avoids charges for photos of nude women on state computer
ALBANY – New York State Police has declined to bring charges against Robert Freeman, the former head of the state Committee on Open Government, after investigating photos of nude and scantily-clad women found on his work computer.
Deanna Cohen, a spokeswoman for State Police, confirmed Thursday the agency has closed its investigation into Freeman's use of his work computer without filing charges.
Freeman, 72, a state employee who acted as New York's in-house advocate for government transparency, was abruptly fired June 24 after Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro found he acted in a "sexually inappropriate manner" toward a Journal News/lohud.com reporter who sought his professional advice on the state Open Meetings Law.
The Westchester County District Attorney's Office, which had been investigating his meeting with the reporter, ultimately declined to bring charges against Freeman.
Tagliafierro's preliminary investigation also turned up a "copious" number of inappropriate images of women on Freeman's state-owned computer as well as a series of "sexually suggestive emails and photographic images" on his official email account, which were turned over to State Police.
After 2 1/2 weeks of investigation, State Police closed the case without bringing charges.
Cohen declined further comment Thursday.
Another investigation expands.
As State Police ends its investigation, Tagliafierro's investigation into Freeman appears to be
At least four women who say Freeman harassed them have been contacted by the Inspector General's Office in recent weeks as the agency continues to look into his conduct during his 43 years as executive director of the state committee dedicated to government transparency.
The investigators' outreach came after the USA TODAY Network in New York on June 27 detailed on-the-record claims by eight women who say Freeman acted inappropriately during meetings and phone calls that were supposed to be of a professional nature.
Some of the women said Freeman gave them unwanted kisses on the face or uncomfortable hugs that lasted too long.
Others said he made remarks about their physical appearance, sometimes after pulling up their photo online while on the phone. Two women said he repeatedly invited them on long walks, where he would put his hand on the small of their back or waist.
Longtime source for reporters
For more than four decades, Freeman was New York's foremost expert on the state' Freedom of Information and open meetings laws, serving as a state-employed ombudsman.
Freeman was a trusted source for reporters and members of the public who ran into issues accessing public information or meetings from the state or their local government. He traveled the state and country to speak about government transparency, often with college students looking to break into journalism or government.
His firing came after the Journal News/lohud.com reporter filed separate complaints with the Inspector General's Office and the Mount Pleasant Police Department last month.
The reporter, Aisha Powell, said Freeman encouraged her to meet with him May 23 at a Westchester diner after she had reached out to him with questions about the state Open Meetings Law.
During the meeting, Powell says Freeman repeatedly stared at her chest and made remarks about her appearance and race. Afterward, Powell says Freeman moved her braids away from her face and touched her back, waist and buttocks as they left the diner and talked in the parking lot.
Before she got in her car, Freeman took her head with both hands and kissed her "just shy of the mouth," Powell said in her complaints.
Freeman has not commented publicly since his firing and declined comment Thursday after answering the door at his Albany-area home.
According to a June 24 letter from Tagliafierro to his boss, Freeman admitted to many of the allegations — including kissing the reporter's face and exchanging sexually suggestive emails with another woman — in sworn testimony to the Inspector General's Office.
In a June 25 statement, Tagliafierro encouraged other people with information regarding Freeman's conduct to reach out to her office.
"We are continuing to work closely with our law enforcement partners on this investigation and encourage anyone who may have additional information regarding this matter to contact our offices," she said.
Removed from Hall of Fame
Freeman's advocacy for open government earned him numerous awards from newspaper organizations and free-press advocates over the years.
On Thursday, the National Freedom of Information Coalition announced it was removing Freeman from its State Open Government Hall of Fame.
Freeman had been inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
"It was the consensus of the 15-member board to remove Freeman because it was in his professional capacity as an open government and FOI public official that these behaviors took place, and his actions are inconsistent with the values of the organization," the coalition said in a statement.
The coalition's action Thursday followed a similar move by the New York News Publishers Association, which stripped Freeman of a similar award last month.
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