Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola to keep pistol permit records sealed

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola to keep pistol permit records sealed

TROY — A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola of “not following the law,” the clerk fired back and said the state doesn’t need another “shoot from the hip governor.

The friction stems from Merola’s decision to seal all pistol permit records, whether or not holders of those permits file the necessary paperwork to keep them sealed. Part of the SAFE Act allows permit holders to file a written request to seal the records that the clerk’s office must process. Merola said previously he doesn’t have the staff to do the work and doesn’t have the money to hire anyone to accomplish the task.

“New York State doesn’t need another ‘shoot from the hip’ governor who speaks before examining all the facts.” Merola said, “The governor shouldn’t tell me or any other county clerk what to do and how to do our jobs. More importantly, he should examine his own law.”

Merola said there isn’t a timetable for clerks to process the forms and that he is perfectly willing to follow the law but he has “other priorities” that take precedent.

Merola said his office received some 2,000 requests, adding that the State Police would be better equipped to handle processing the requests because the clerks were not given enough guidance or funding to complete the task.

He added under the SAFE Act, while all state level pistol records are sealed, the state inexplicably refused to seal all county records.

“Who is going to handle the lawsuit that may arise if we release one record that should have been exempted but was missed due to lack of manpower and funding?” Merola asked. “I have no problem following the SAFE Act provisions, but if the governor wants the clerks to be his enforcement agents, he should provide adequate guidance, funding and staffing to aid enforcement. Until this happens, county pistol records will remain sealed.”

The issue of sealing pistol permits came to a head when some downstate newspapers FOILed pistol permits and published holders’ names and addresses. The SAFE Act was pushed through the state Legislature in January, a month after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in December 2012.

— By Record Staff

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