F.O.I. back on the WEB!
Stamford Boards and Commissions still don't get it!
E-MAIL, Voicemail Proposed Declaratory
Ruling...NOW ALL WATCHDOGS MERGED IN 2011
Story in full:
Use of social media in police protection and law enforcement: http://www.unionleader.com/article/20141023/NEWS03/141029514
Greenwich boards prepare minutes to secret meeting
Robert Marchant, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:43 pm, Friday, January 2, 2015
Town officials are in the process of approving the minutes of an
illegal, closed-door meeting attended by various boards that looked at
ways to clean up contaminated soil at Greenwich High School two years
The Board of Selectmen recently approved the minutes of the meeting, and
the Board of Estimate and Taxation is planning to approve its minutes
of the 2013 meeting later this month. The Board of Education is also in
the process of reviewing and approving minutes.
The BET held the special meeting Feb. 26, 2013, and asked members of the
Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to attend. According to
the agenda, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a "pending claim"
related to the remediation of the high school grounds.
The state's Freedom of Information law allows litigation to be discussed
in executive session behind closed doors...story in full: http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Greenwich-boards-prepare-minutes-to-secret-meeting-5991059.php#photo-7343012
Judge: Greenwich officials' meeting was illegal
By Justin Pottle
Published 8:14 pm, Friday, October 31, 2014
A judge has upheld the state Freedom of Information Commission's ruling
that a closed-door meeting Greenwich officials held to discuss ground
contamination was illegal.
The judge on Thursday dismissed the town's appeal of that ruling --
rejecting its argument that members of three boards were legally
justified meeting in private because they were discussing a legal claim.
He upheld the FOI Commission's finding that officials instead discussed
and reached consensus on how best to clean up contaminated soil at
Greenwich High School -- before remediation options were presented to
the public...story in full: http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Judge-Greenwich-officials-meeting-was-illegal-5862253.php
FOI Advocate: Malloy Administration Should Push Charter Group On Public Disclosure
FUSE, Jumoke Academy, Lately Have Been Consulting Lawyer Who Is Malloy Pal And Democratic Fundraiser
Jon Lender, Government Watch
9:53 PM EDT, July 12, 2014
The president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information is
blasting an embattled Hartford charter school group for refusing to
release information to the public about its taxpayer-funded operations –
adding that the Malloy administration should push the group harder to
obey FOI laws.
Officials in the Malloy administration have said that they are not sure
how the FOI laws apply to charter school organizations and that they
need to study the issue further. But Jim Smith, head of the nonprofit
group that advocates for laws protecting the public's right to know, is
unequivocal in his belief that the laws do apply.
"Charter schools are certainly one solution of the problems in education
in Connecticut and in America. There are things in education that are
properly private, like academic records," Smith said. "But if the
charter schools [receive]... public moneys, then charter school
officials who refuse to divulge information are breaking the Freedom of
Smith was referring, in an interview Friday, to the charter management
group FUSE, as well as the Jumoke Academy charter schools in Hartford
that FUSE managed.
Both organizations have failed to provide information requested by The
Courant during recent weeks of turmoil including the resignation of
FUSE's CEO, Michael Sharpe, after it was disclosed that he served time
in federal prison and falsely claimed to have a doctorate. The state has
provided $53 million to the charter operation since the 1997 founding
of Jumoke, and the formation of FUSE as its management unit in more
The Courant's requests for information from Jumoke and FUSE would
typically have been complied with by a normal superintendent of schools'
office in a town or a city under the section of state statutes known as
the Freedom of Information Act.
For example, if a superintendent of schools resigned after it was
revealed that he faked his doctorate, his office would be required under
law to disclose his salary and other information such as whether he
would receive a pension, and in what amount.
But when The Courant sought that same information from FUSE about
Sharpe, for example, the organization refused to answer, saying it is
not covered by the FOI Act because it is a private, non-profit group.
State law says that charter schools are, in effect, public agencies and
must provide information upon request under the FOI Act.
State law isn't as specific with regard to charter school management
groups such as FUSE, but the co-chairman of the legislature's education
committee, Andrew Fleischmann, said court decisions make it clear that
FUSE should be providing information to the public under current laws.
Just to make sure that is clear, his co-chair on the committee says the
legislature should close all loopholes next year because of what FUSE
has been doing..
Smith, the FOI council president, on Friday said he agreed. "There is
enough case law, with enough specificity as to what is public and what
is private in education, that these guys simply are ignoring legitimate
questions that the public has the right to know about," he said.
FUSE in recent days has reiterated its opposition to disclosing the
information requested. Its acting co-CEO, Heidi Hamilton, a lawyer,
wrote The Courant Thursday and said that "we are not a public agency.
Moreover, the records you have requested are not public records or
files…Lastly, we have been advised by counsel that we are under no duty
to respond to your request."
In an interview during the week, Hamilton said The Courant's contention
that the information is public is "really not relevant to me… I have to
concentrate on running a business."
Jumoke, for its part, has not claimed immunity from the FOI as FUSE has,
but it still has yet to comply with any FOI requests from the Courant –
such as a list of employees and information about a murky lease
arrangement with Sharpe, who's been living in a second-floor apartment
in a Jumoke-owned building on Asylum Avenue in Hartford. Jumoke also
refuses comment on any rental arrangement there might be for a woman who
lives on the third floor of the building.
When taxpayers are footing the bill, even a non-profit organization must account to the public for its operations, Smith said.
"If there are legitimate questions about the operations of charter
schools… and they have received…millions of tax dollars, then the
governor has to ensure that these questions are answered publicly,"
Smith said. He added that statements insisting on the charter schools'
compliance with FOI laws should be made by both Malloy and his appointed
education commissioner, Stefan Pryor. Pryor comes from a charter school
background; he co-founded Amistad Academy, a charter school in New
Haven, and served on the board of the Achievement First network of
schools that includes Amistad.
"Why wouldn't they want this information available to the public? They
should insist on it publicly. The governor should tell these charter
schools to release the information," Smith said, adding that Pryor
Pryor said this past week that his department has embarked on a
"comprehensive analysis" of its oversight of charter schools – including
the question of their obligations under the FOI Act.
When asked recently whether Pryor thinks charter school groups should
have the same obligations as regular public schools under the FOI Act,
education department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said: "Transparency is a
vital component of public accountability. During the course of our
review of laws and policies related to charter schools, we will examine
this question further so that all organizations are adhering to the
On Friday, Malloy's director of communications, Andrew Doba, said, when
asked about Smith's comments: "The administration supports the
[education] department's review of charter schools, including their
review of additional transparency measures."
He did not respond Smith's statement that there may be some significance
to the fact that a politically connected lawyer and friend of Malloy's
has entered the picture: James A. Wade of the prominent firm
Robinson+Cole in Hartford. Both Jumoke and FUSE have begun consulting
Wade. Hamilton cc'd Wade on her FOI response Thursday, and members of
Jumoke's governing board mentioned at a Thursday evening meeting that
they had been seeking Wade's advice (on matters they didn't disclose).
Wade is a major fundraiser for Democrats, and Malloy has repeatedly
served as the speaker and main draw at fundraising events staged by
Wade's political action committee, called Prosperity For Connecticut.
One of those fundraisers in 2013 was hosted by a major figure in the
Connecticut charter school movement, Greenwich businessman Jonathan
Sackler. Sackler's family members, and the company where he is a
director, have accounted for about $200,000 in donations in 2013 and
2014 to state and federal Democratic committees that can help Malloy's
November re-election campaign.
Smith said it's "an utterly fair question" to ask whether Wade's
involvement could affect the Malloy administration's handling of the
charter schools issue. "Why else would they hire Jim Wade? These guys
[FUSE and Jumoke] obviously have some savvy," Smith said. "It's almost
Wade did not return a Courant phone message Friday.
Jumoke announced late Friday that it is severing ties with FUSE and
would now operate its three charter schools in Hartford without the
management group. FUSE still has an agreement to operate a charter
school in Louisiana. Details of how the new arrangement would work were
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant
How the CT Legislature works: Or the literary
alternative...or back again? Or the Legislature supported by the State Supreme Court?
Task Force Bill Swings Back Towards Openness
by Hugh McQuaid
| Mar 24, 2014 6:30pm
Administration and Elections Committee stripped restrictions on public
access to 911 recordings from a bill before voting on the controversial
leaned heavily in favor of public access when it adopted new language
on a bill that sought to find compromise between open government and
crime victims’ privacy.
The bill had
been written to create a special class of public records, which the
public could inspect but not copy. The language placed the burden of
releasing those records on the person requesting the documents. A task
force that proposed the recommendations in the bill called for
recordings of 911 emergency calls and pictures depicting the bodies of
homicide victims be included in this class of records.
removed language regarding 911 recordings from the bill, meaning the
public will retain access to them. They preserved the
look-but-don’t-copy policy for pictures depicting homicide victims but
flipped the burden of proof so it falls on the government to explain
why they should not be released.
Musto, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections
Committee, said the bill was changed in the interest of finding a
compromise between the task force recommendations and Freedom of
Information advocates who want the legislature to re-think changes
lawmakers made to Connecticut’s public disclosure policies last year.
people who want to repeal what we did last year. There are people who
don’t want to change anything. We’ve tried addressing these concerns in
the new language of the bill by leaving the 911 recordings where we did
last year,” he said. “I don’t know that either side is going to be
completely happy with it.”
bill is the latest iteration in a legislative process set in motion
last year, when lawmakers acted on the final day of session, and
without a public hearing, to create special exemptions in the state
Freedom of Information Act to protect the privacy of the family members
of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. That action created
a task force to inform legislation during this year’s session.
The task force
worked for months on a report that many on the panel called a
compromise. However, open government advocates and Senate President
Donald Williams have opposed it saying it will reduce transparency in
the criminal justice system. At a hearing earlier this month, Williams
called the bill “counterproductive” and “destructive.”
But in the form
adopted Monday, advocates of victim privacy feel the legislation has
swung too far in the other direction.
“Based on this
substitute language, I’d rather they just spike this completely because
this doesn’t give us anything,” State Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose
said outside the committee meeting.
photos depicting homicide victims has been completely barred under the
law passed last year. Ambrose, who served on the task force, said the
group’s privacy advocates allowed them to be inspected as part of a
compromise that also involved including 911 tapes in the same class of
is gone completely. If we knew that compromise was going to be gone,
there’s no way that I ever would have voted on putting the photos back
in. I would have just said ‘We have a stalemate’... and just keep
everything as it is currently,” he said.
The bill now
heads to the Senate and possibly to the Judiciary Committee, which has
its own similar bill.
23, 2014 OP-ED FROM CTNEWSJUNKIE HERE
Task Force Wants Copying Certain
Records To Be A Crime
by Hugh McQuaid | Jan 24, 2014 5:13pm
An early draft of a report from a task force weighing privacy against
public disclosure would have recommended making it a felony to copy
certain law enforcement records without permission.
That language was softened by the time the panel approved its final
report during Friday’s meeting. The report reaffirms recommendations
approved by the group last month that would change the way the public
accesses some law enforcement records.
The policies endorsed by a majority of the task force would permit a
member of the public to view certain law enforcement records pertaining
to homicides, but would place the burden of justifying the public
release of those documents on the member of the public. Previously,
government agencies had the burden of explaining why they did not want
to release a record.
The new standard would apply to photographs and videos depicting
homicide victims as well as recordings of 911 calls and other police
communications describing their bodies. The group also approved a
recommendation that the legislature passes a law making it a crime to
copy these records without permission.
But according to Colleen Murphy, director of the Freedom of Information
Commission, an early draft of the report included language that would
have made that crime a Class D felony. Murphy said the group never
approved such language and it was removed from subsequent drafts of the
report. But Murphy and FOI advocate Jim Smith reacted to the provision
in a section of the report’s appendix dedicated to statements from
members of the group.
In her statement, Murphy pointed out that a Class D felony
charge is “equivalent to strangulation, promoting prostitution and
robbery, among other crimes, punishable by up to five years in prison.”
On the other hand, if public officials refuse to comply with an order
from the Freedom of Information Commission, they are only subject to a
Class B misdemeanor charge, Murphy wrote.
In his statement, Smith, a former newspaper editor and current
president of the Council for Freedom of Information, called the felony
provision “lunacy” and an “outrageous step — a first for FOI laws.”
“The FOI statutes could use tougher fines against those officials who
violate the law. Perhaps we should change the law to include felony
convictions and prison sentences for officials who break FOI law by
refusing to release public information,” he said.
The final report only recommends that the legislature make taking or
copying the records without permission “a crime” and does not recommend
a specific classification. During Friday’s meeting, Murphy and Smith
contested whether the task force voted on that provision during its
hectic December meeting. Both said they did not recall even discussing
However, most of the the task force disagreed and put the question to
rest Friday by rejecting an amendment by Murphy and Smith which would
have removed that and several other provisions they said the group
never voted on.
Ultimately, the task force approved the report in a 15-2 vote, with
Smith and Murphy opposing the document. Susan Storey, the state’s chief
public defender, voted in favor of approving the report but indicated
that if legislation is drafted based on its recommendations she would
oppose the bill.
“I think the report is an accurate reflection of what happened in this
room, but it is not my intention to support the recommendations,” she
said. “. . . I think that curtailing the free flow of information is
injurious to the justice system.”
Don DeCesare, one of the panel’s two chairman and the manager of two
radio stations, said the report would not have been what he recommended
personally, but represents compromise.
“I think we did in fact achieve the balance we were asked to find and
my guess is that if each of the 17 of us were asked to write this, it
wouldn’t have come out exactly as it did. That’s probably a good notion
that indeed, it’s pretty much right,” he said.
Conn. town officials call cops to remove
Jan 17, 7:33 AM EST
BETHLEHEM, Conn. (AP) --
Two newspaper reporters say officials in a Connecticut town called
state police to have them removed from a town hall after refusing a
public records request.
Citizen reporters Isaac Avilucea and Gayla Cawley say officials asked
them to leave Bethlehem Town Hall on Thursday. State police showed up
and took statements, but didn't arrest anyone.
Citizen reports ( http://bit.ly/1i53zjk ) that town officials refused
to immediately respond to the reporters' request under state law for
information about the Public Works Department and missing supplies. So
the reporters decided to stay in Town Hall until someone responded to
Selectman Lenny Assard says he didn't think officials were required to
immediately produce the documents and asked the reporters to put the
request in writing, which they did.
from: The Register Citizen, http://www.registercitizen.com
© 2014 The
Orders Release of 911 Tapes
by Hugh McQuaid
| Nov 26, 2013 4:04pm
the 911 calls made during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
will be released by Dec. 4 under a Tuesday decision by a Superior Court
judge in New Britain. Judge Eliot Prescott
issued the decision Tuesday, denying a request by State’s Attorney
Stephen Sedensky to prevent their release. Sedensky had asked the court
to issue a stay while he appealed a decision by the Freedom of
Information Commission, which had ruled in favor of the Associated
Press, which had asked Newtown police to provide copies of the
The judge gave
Sedensky until Dec. 4 to appeal the ruling. Sedensky is reviewing the
decision and will determine his next course of action by that date,
according to a statement from the state Division of Criminal Justice.
month, Prescott concluded he could not rule on the case until he had
listened to the recordings. The tapes were made available to the court
on Monday as sealed evidence. After reviewing the
recordings, Prescott said they did not meet the requirements for
exemptions that would prevent their disclosure under the state Freedom
of Information Act. ..full
commission orders release of Newtown 911 tapes
Prosecutor to appeal decision in
MELIA Associated Press
published Sep 26, 2013
Hartford - The
state's Freedom of Information Commission on Wednesday ordered the
release of the 911 tapes from last year's shooting at Sandy Hook
Elementary School, ruling in favor of an appeal by The Associated Press
for access to records withheld by investigators.
will not be made available immediately. The prosecutor leading the
investigation of the Dec. 14 massacre, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen
Sedensky III, said the commission's decision will be appealed in
could shed light on the law enforcement response to one of the worst
school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty-six people, including 20
first-graders, were killed inside the school on Dec. 14 by the gunman,
Adam Lanza, who committed suicide as police arrived.
that the calls should be exempt from public information laws because
they contain information that could be used in a law enforcement
action. But the chairman of the commission, Owen Eagan, said Sedensky
did not make clear in his previous testimony how the information might
be used or how its release could damage an investigation in which no
arrests are anticipated.
"You never even
reviewed the tapes," Eagan said, reminding Sedensky of his testimony
raised other arguments against releasing the tapes, saying they could
subject witnesses to harassment from conspiracy theorists and violate
survivors from the school who deserve special protection as victims of
"This is a case
about crime victims and witnesses who shouldn't have to worry that
their calls for help in their most vulnerable moments will become
fodder for the evening news," he said at the start of Wednesday's
On the day of
the shooting, the AP requested documents, including copies of 911
calls, as it does routinely in news gathering, in part to examine the
police response to the massacre that sent officers from multiple
agencies racing to the school. If the recordings are released, the AP
would review the content and determine what, if any, of it would meet
the news cooperative's standards for publication.
police department denied the AP's request, citing legal exemptions that
allow the government to withhold documents if they're being used for an
ongoing investigation and should remain secret. The AP appealed to the
before FOI hearing officer Kathleen Ross on June 3, Newtown's police
chief said a search for the records was not conducted until three days
before his appearance at the FOI commission hearing. Although 911 calls
are typically released, Sedensky directed Newtown police not to turn
over the recordings while the inquiry was underway.
In a response
earlier this month to a hearing officer who recommended the recordings
be released, Sedensky said criminals could benefit by the release of
material that could later become relevant to the investigation.
ruling in the proposed decision, the investigators and the state's
attorney would be at the mercy of a criminal seeking to find out what
law enforcement knows before law enforcement knows the significance of
an individual piece of evidence," he wrote.
law passed earlier this year in response to the massacre creates
exemptions to the freedom-of-information law for the release of
photographs, film, video and other images depicting a homicide victim
if those records constitute "an unwarranted invasion" on the privacy of
the surviving family members. It also created a one-year moratorium on
the release of certain portions of audiotape and other recordings -
with the exception of 911 tapes - in which the condition of a homicide
victim is described.
More on this...from
Bill Drafted In Secret Would Block Release
Of Some Newtown Massacre Records
By JON LENDER,
EDMUND H. MAHONY and DAVE ALTIMARI, email@example.com
10:18 PM EDT, May 21, 2013
The staffs of the state's top prosecutor and the governor's office have
been working in secret with General Assembly leaders on legislation to
withhold records related to the police investigation into the Dec. 14
Newtown elementary school massacre — including victims' photos, tapes
of 911 calls, and possibly more.
behind-the-scenes legislative effort came to light Tuesday when The
Courant obtained a copy of an email by a top assistant to Chief State's
Attorney Kevin Kane, Timothy J. Sugrue. Sugrue, an assistant state's
attorney, discussed options considered so far, including blocking
release of statements "made by a minor."
complete agreement regarding photos etc., and audio tapes, although the
act may allow the disclosure of audio transcripts," Sugrue wrote to
Kane, two other Kane subordinates and to Danbury State's Attorney
Stephen Sedensky, who is directing the investigation of the killings.
The bill that's
being crafted has not been handled under routine legislative procedures
— it hasn't gone through the committee process, which includes a public
hearing, for example. Sugrue's email Tuesday indicated that a draft of
the bill was being worked on by leaders in both the House and Senate,
and might be ready as soon as the end of the day.
He wrote: "I
just received a call from Natalie Wagner" — a member of the legal
counsel's staff in the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
that draft language will be forthcoming today (the work of both houses)
in the form of a special act. ..." Sugrue wrote that Wagner "will send
me the draft in confidence when she receives it, and I will immediately
Tuesday, the legislation proposed by Kane wasn't ready to be acted on
in either legislative chamber, said Malloy's director of
communications, Andrew Doba. He said he did not know when that might
"A lot of
people, including our office, have heard the concerns expressed by the
families of Newtown victims, and are exploring ways to respect the
families' right to privacy while also respecting the public's right to
information," gubernatorial chief of staff Mark Ojakian said in a
statement released by Doba.
question yet to be settled is whether the legislation would apply only
to the Newtown case, or to documents from other criminal cases that are
now subject to public disclosure. A report on the police investigation
into the Newtown shooting is expected to be released in June.
by Kane, the bill wouldn't be limited to the Newtown file.
"We are seeking
legislation to protect crime scene photographs protecting victims and
certain 911 tapes," Kane told The Courant Tuesday. "It is something
that I have been concerned about for years and years and the situation
in Newtown brings it to a head. I don't want family members seeing
pictures of their loved ones publicized in a manner in which these are
subject to be published."
He said as he
sees the legislation, it would apply to "basically crime scene
photographs depicting injuries to victims and recordings, 911
recordings displaying the mental anguish of victims. Things like that,
of that category. And it seems to me that the intrusion of the privacy
of the individuals outweighs any public interest in seeing these."
Sugrue said in
his email that the "forthcoming" language would be "in the form of a
special act, not an amendment to the [state's Freedom of Information
discussed behind the scenes, the proposed legislation would have
amended the state's freedom of information law by adding a blanket
exemption to disclosure of any "criminal investigation photograph,
film, videotape, other image or recording or report depicting or
describing the victim or victims."
Colleen Murphy, the director of the state's FOI
Commission, said Tuesday that her staff had argued against the idea
of such a blanket change. She said a couple of weeks ago the office of
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey provided her agency with a draft
including the blanket exception. She said she was advised that this
draft would not be put to a vote, but she knew nothing abut the
contents of the "forthcoming" draft.
she'd urged that lawmakers be "thoughtful and careful about any
legislation" and to "not be reactive to one situation" by making
changes that could have long-term, unintended effects.
unaware of Sugrue's email when The Courant told her about it late
Tuesday afternoon. She said she and her staff had not been receiving
detailed updates. Asked if she would have liked to have been kept aware
of developments such as Sugrue's email, she said yes.
The killing of
20 first-graders and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
Newtown has sparked a number of legislative proposals this year to
protect the privacy of the victims' families and spare them further
pain. One example is a bill that would exempt the death certificates of
minors from public disclosure for six months.
On Dec. 14,
Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home then
drove to the school, where he used a semiautomatic rifle in the
massacre. He then killed himself. Most investigative records have yet
to be released concerning Lanza, including any psychological reports.
If the proposed
legislation ends up blocking the release of victims' photos and tapes
of 911 calls — on which Sugrue said "there is complete agreement" — it
wouldn't be a significant departure from normal procedures with regard
to photos, but would be a major departure with regard to tapes of
As a matter of
long practice, Connecticut police departments do not release grisly
photos of victims. These only emerge in public when placed in evidence
during criminal trials, and when they do they generally are not
published in newspapers or on television.
"Our concern is
the media and the Internet and all the bloggers," Kane said. "If this
stuff is FOI-able. ... You've seen these pictures, which are sometimes
introduced as exhibits in court at a trial. The print media
certainly doesn't print those. And normally the TV doesn't. But this
case rose to a whole different level. Subject to FOI, any member
of the public can get them."
Audio tapes of
911 tapes, on the other hand, are routinely released by police under
FOI laws in Connecticut and across the country. Law enforcement
officials have refused to release the 911 call tapes in the Newtown
case so far. Those tapes were released after other recent major crimes,
including the 2010 Hartford Distributors shootings in Manchester.
The release of
such tapes are often used by the news media or lawyers to evaluate the
police response to emergencies.
on Tuesday discussed, in vague terms, potential "consent" provisions
under which victims' family members apparently would have say over what
information might be withheld or released. He mentioned a proposal to
"allow the written consent of one immediate next of kin" – to
accommodate one parent's "desire to obtain records that relate to her
son." But, he added, that might be unfair to "the other families if one
member thereof gives the consent."
Tuesday was the question of which government officials would decide
whether to release or withhold information under the bill.
© 2013, The Hartford Courant
OP-ED | News on the
FOI Front Looks Bleak
by Terry D.
Cowgill | May 17, 2013 5:30am
watchdogs, and journalists in the Nutmeg State, the outlook for open
access to government information just gets grimmer by the month. With
few exceptions, lawmakers and other state officials are trying their
best to make it harder for us to take a look at what they’re up to.
The reasons for
the desire for more secrecy vary, but they range from a genuine desire
for less transparency, to saving money, to pure emotion in the wake of
a tragedy. But almost all these measures have one thing in common:
they’re bad ideas whose implementation would protect the well connected
at the expense of the people.
A report last
week by The Courant’s Jon Lender reveals a disturbing pattern. Various
pieces of legislation are pending in the General Assembly that would
withhold the home addresses of certain state employees, bar access to
records of those seeking pardons, and force taxpayers to pay a fee
simply for the privilege of viewing a police report.
One of the most
troubling is a bill sponsored by Newtown Republican state Rep. Mitch
Bolinsky, who proposed a one-paragraph bill that would restrict public
access to the death certificates of minors until six months after the
death. Why? Because Bolinsky got a call from the town clerk, who felt
uncomfortable sharing death certificates with reporters only three days
after 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary
As should be
obvious to everyone, perhaps the worst time to change the law is when
emotions get the best of our public officials. Harken back to two years
ago when then-Sen. Edith Prague, a principled and longtime opponent of
the death penalty, changed her mind after meeting with Dr. William
Petit, the sole survivor of a violent and deadly home invasion in
Cheshire four years ago.
the Newtown massacre was even more catastrophic than what happened in
Cheshire. So the urge to proceed on emotion should be resisted more
firmly. A couple of mass murders rightly stimulate discussion on gun
control but they should not be cause for restricting public access to
Now the State
Police, always likely suspects in the battle over public information,
have outdone themselves. They’ve asked lawmakers to approve a bill that
would impose a $16 fee on anyone who wants access to a police report.
No, that’s not a copying charge, which would be reasonable, but a fee
for just looking at a report in a viewing room. We all know what the
effect of that would be. Fewer citizens asking for police reports and,
therefore, fewer people checking in to see what the police are up to.
The office of
Gov. Dannel Malloy is proposing to put most of the staff of three
autonomous watchdog agencies under a single entity supervised by the
governor’s office. That means the state offices of Ethics, Elections
Enforcement and Freedom of Information would effectively lose their
independence and would be at much greater risk of politicization.
Malloys says it would save $180,000. Fortunately, the General
Assembly’s appropriations committee is balking, but probably for the
wrong reasons. After all, the GA has its own FOI issues and what kind
of legislature wants to give the executive branch more power?
Too often the
impulse of those in charge seems to be to err on the side of less
information rather than more, except when the release of that
information benefits the powerful. Most people who work in law
enforcement, for example, are reluctant to release information, even
when it should be public. But when a cop breaks up a bank robbery or
saves a life, the police department quickly issues a detailed press
release extolling the virtues of the brave officer and his heroic
And either out
of ignorance or arrogance, municipal boards and commissions sometimes
adjourn to executive session for the flimsiest of reasons. I once
covered a Board of Finance meeting in Salisbury in which a board member
— an attorney, no less — suggested going behind closed doors to discuss
an agenda item because it involved “potential litigation.” Such a idea
makes a mockery of freedom of information law and could be used as a
pretense to move just about any item out of public view.
public information advocates are making a lot of noise. And state
Comptroller Kevin Lembo is doing his part to promote openness in
government. He’s proposed a bill to create a searchable online database
of information on the controversial economic assistance the state gives
businesses as incentives. So the news is only mostly bad.
But I think
it’s safe to say that legislators and bureaucrats need an attitude
adjustment. As FOI Commission Executive Director Colleen Murphy told
Lender, too often their reaction to the release of information is to
question why the public needs to know when they should be asking why
the Long Session 2013, "watch dogs" were turning into potential "lap
dogs" as their administrator went on record denying that he was
responsible to the various agencies...
Malloy picks leader
at Connecticut accountability office
published Dec 31, 2013
(AP) — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has named a new executive administrator of
Connecticut's Office of Government Accountability, a collection of nine
regulatory offices, including the Office of State Ethics and Freedom of
Shelby J. Brown
of East Hartford, currently the associate director of employee
relations at the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education,
will take on the new job. She replaces David Guay, who was appointed in
October by Malloy to serve as the executive director of the State
Contracting Standards Board.
Brown from a list of approved candidates provided to him by the
Governmental Accountability Commission. She was the panel's top
scheduled to begin her new job on Jan. 10 on an acting basis. Her
appointment requires confirmation by the General Assembly.
| Superagency Must Be Able To Maintain Independence
by James H.
Smith | Nov 27, 2012 10:52am
If you care
about ethics in government, honest elections, or the right to know what
your government is doing, then the mess at the Office of Governmental
Accountability should be cause for alarm. At best, they’re wrestling
with an octopus. At worst, the essential independence of our state
watchdog agencies will be crippled. It’s nearly laughable if it weren’t
such a shame.
and the legislature created this superagency in 2011 in the name of
efficiency. The nine agencies include the State Elections Enforcement
Commission, the Office of State Ethics, and the Freedom of Information
Gov. Dan Malloy
chose David Guay to be the “executive administrator,” of the
superagency. Mr. Guay, who prefers to be the boss rather than merely
the administrator, is refusing to meet with the directors of the nine
agencies that comprise the Government Accountability Commission, which
has the power to fire him. He maintains the commission doesn’t have the
power to evaluate his performance, and the governor’s chief counsel
appears to back him up on that.
But rather than
fire him at this time, the commission prefers to “identify areas that
need improvement and resolve them.” He is commended in some areas for
his work in the first year of this cobbled-together agency, but he is
evaluated critically in key areas of management.
“It is of grave
concern to the GAC that (Guay) is unwilling to meet to discuss the
status of the consolidation or to collaborate on ways to make it a
success as he enters his second year of employment,” states a draft of
What we have
here is a failure to communicate.
In the merger
of the watchdog agencies, staff cuts at the FOIC have led to piled up
cases and delays in getting hearings or taking appeals to the state
courts. The people’s right to know is slowing to a crawl.
A year ago Mr.
Guay, who makes $118,000 a year, tried to change the rules and proposed
that he report directly to the governor, rather than to the Government
Accountability Commission. “Giving the GAC the authority to evaluate
and possibly terminate a governor’s appointee appears to be
inconsistent with the appointment of other gubernatorial appointees,”
he said at the time.
He also said to
the commission that, “I’ll report to whoever I need to report to. I
don’t fear an evaluation. In fact I welcome the evaluation. I think I
will ace my evaluation, I will exceed their expectations.”
But now he
refuses to even listen to his evaluation and has twice declined to
attend a commission meeting where his evaluation was on the agenda. In
fact, according to the draft of his evaluation, he doesn’t even like
talking to the agency directors: “Regular communications by [Guay] with
the division heads have not been established. It is unusual for him to
visit any of the division offices or to meet with the division heads
one-on-one. This failure on the part of [Guay] to engage in two-way
communication regularly is a primary concern.”
elections and FOI agencies were created independent for a reason. If
you are controlled by the chief executive of the state, how can you
hold him or her accountable? Mr. Guay doesn’t seem to grasp that his
selfish efforts to try to report directly to the governor puts the OGA
agencies under the governor’s thumb, no matter who is governor. It’s
the proverbial fox in the henhouse.
legal counsel Andrew McDonald told The Hartford Courant that Guay’s
interpretation of the law that created his job “seems to be a very
plausible reading of the statute in its simplest terms. The statute …
constrains the commission’s activities to two very discrete purposes” —
holding meetings to either recommend job candidates for administrator,
or to fire that administrator.
If the GAC
wants to “undertake activities that are not included in the statute,”
they might get “an opinion from the attorney general that allows them
to,” McDonald suggested.
state attorney general’s office has issued opinions backing what is
generally called the “greater power/lesser power” rule—the express
grant of power includes implied powers that are necessary or essential
to exercise the express power—“a bit of common sense that has been
recognized in virtually every legal code from time memorial,” according
to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals.
It is utter
nonsense when Mr. Guay says the GAC must fire him, if it so desires,
without any due process accorded to him. He must come to his senses and
do the job he was hired to do. He must stop trying to undermine the
independence of the agencies he is charged with serving. If he
persists, let him return to the state Board of Accountancy where worked
as director for 22 years.
H. Smith, a retired newspaper editor, is the President of the nonprofit
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.
COMPLETE ARTICLE - THE REST HAD TO DO WITH POSSIBLE ETHICS VIOLATIONS
Rev. Moales; It’s called the Freedom of Information Act and it even
applies to you…
Jun 21, 2012
Earlier this week,
Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education held a meeting of
its Ad Hoc Budget Committee to hear from part-time superintendent of
schools, Paul Vallas, about his plans to over-ride local support and
pull Bridgeport’s successful alternative high school program out of the
University School, a non-profit entity that has been part of the
Bridgeport community for decades.
meeting agenda was explicit, with only two items to be discussed,
parents, University School supporters and other community members had
to sit through a meeting in which the Budget Committee members and
staff held a wide-ranging discussion on a variety of issues.
audience member, Carmen Lopez, a retired Connecticut judge, raised the
point that Connecticut law requires that the members of a public board
or committee limit their discussions to what is on the agenda, the
Committee’s Chairman, Reverend Kenneth Moales Jr., became verbally
abusive yelling that he “will talk about anything he wants to talk
about” and that “no-one is going to tell him what he can talk about at
that failure to follow the agenda would be a violation of Connecticut’s
Freedom of Information Act, Moalas was reported to have said “I don’t
that Rev. Moales served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer in
last year’s mayoral campaign, one would expect that he would understand
the law and appreciate the importance of respecting Mayor Finch’s
constituents, but apparently that isn’t the case.
unwarranted attack and diatribe, the Mayor or someone on the Mayor’s
staff would do well to provide Rev. Moales with a copy of the law or
they could simply print off the following:
1-225. (Formerly Sec. 1-21). Meetings of government
agencies to be public. Recording of votes. Schedule and
agenda of meetings…
“(c) The agenda
of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be available to
the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before
the meetings to which they refer…Upon the affirmative vote of
two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting, any
subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be
considered and acted upon at such meetings.” [This means that the
members can only discuss the items on the agenda unless, by a
two-thirds vote the members move to open the agenda and add additional
items. The reason this law exists is that the public has a
fundamental right to know, at least 24 hours in advance, what their
public servants will be discussing.]
Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education should specifically note that;
“(d) Notice of
each special meeting of every public agency…shall be posted not less
than twenty-four hours before the meeting to which such notice refers…
The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and
the business to be transacted. No other business shall be
considered at such meetings by such public agency. “[This means that if
the meeting in question is a “special meeting” then the agenda cannot
be modified in any way.] NOT THE COMPLETE BLOG POST
Change of plans. Meetings creating teacher
evaluations will be public.
Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
May 23, 2012
numerous meetings behind closed doors to finalize details
on how teachers and principals will be graded, the State Department of
Education has said the public and the media can attend the sessions
from now on.
different at this meeting. At this meeting -- in the
interest of transparency -- the state department has invited the press
to join us," is how Elizabeth Shaw, the state's consultant with
Education First, started Wednesday's "working group" meeting.
to conduct open meetings comes one day after the
Connecticut Mirror reported that several private meetings have taken
place without public notice and that 10 more closed sessions had been
It also follows
a contentious Performance Evaluation Advisory Council
meeting last week, the first public meeting in three months, where
members butted heads on how much weight to give students' standardized
test results in teacher evaluations.
The council had
planned to reconvene this past Monday to start to hash
out issues raised during the meeting, but Monday's session was
cancelled, and the closed "working group" meetings scheduled instead.
The next public meeting had not been scheduled until June 21, nine days
before the panel's June 30 deadline. The state Board of Education is
expected to sign off on the evaluations shortly after that.
Freedom of Information Act defines a meeting as "any
hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or
assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency."
And though a
meeting can include "any communication by or to a quorum
of a multimember public agency" both the Freedom of Information
Commission and state courts say the presence of a quorum isn't
essential for a meeting to have occurred.
of the Teacher Evaluation Working Group that met
Wednesday were surprised to learn that their previous meetings were not
public, including one the previous day.
"I thought they
always were public," said Lori Rossomando, the leader of Stamford's
said having the media present at a meeting "can do a
disservice to the process" if a story is bias or does a bad job of
reporting the meeting. "But that said, the press has the right to be
here," she said.
A spokesman for
the state department agrees.
decided that inviting the media to these working group
sessions is the right thing to do. We are hopeful and confident that
these sessions can proceed with the candor necessary for participants
to advance this critical process," spokesman Jim Polites said.
meeting is slated for Thursday, May 24, at 9 a.m. at the
Connecticut Association of Schools in Cheshire. Other meetings are set
for May 29 and June 5 and 12...(More to this story, but the FOI part is
fully discussed above.)
Teacher evaluation panel moves its
work behind closed doors
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Keith M. Phaneuf
May 22, 2012
After a contentious public meeting last week on developing a new
teacher and principal evaluation system, the state Department of
Education has closed its meetings on the topic to the public and the
Instead, a series of private "working group" meetings is scheduled to
take place in the weeks before the panel's June 30 deadline to create a
model process on evaluation under the new education reform law. The
next public meeting is not until June 21, nine days before the panel is
required to finish their work. The state Board of Education is expected
to sign off on the evaluations shortly after that.
Asked if these "working group" meetings will be open to the public,
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor last week referred all questions to
a State Department of Education spokesman, who declined to give
notification of these meetings nor copies of its minutes.
At its first public meeting in three months, members of the Performance
Evaluation Advisory Council last week butted heads on how much weight
students' standardized test results should have when their teachers are
The council had planned to reconvene Monday to begin to hash out a list
of issues raised during the meeting, including the standardized tests
issue and how many times teachers should be observed during the school
The education department cancelled Monday's meeting, however, and
scheduled 10 private "working group" meetings instead, including one
this morning on principal evaluations. The other groups set to meet in
closed sessions this week include Implementation, Teacher Evaluation,
Pupil Services and Observation.
An education department spokesman failed to respond to numerous
requests for time, date and location of upcoming meetings. The Mirror
received a copy of those meeting dates from a panel member.
The section of the Connecticut General Statutes commonly referred to as
the Freedom of Information Act defines a meeting as "any hearing or
other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a
quorum of a multimember public agency."
And though a meeting can include "any communication by or to a quorum
of a multimember public agency" both the Freedom of Information
Commission and state courts say the presence of a quorum isn't
essential for a meeting to have occurred.
In an August 1989 decision involving the East Hartford Emergency
Medical Services Commission, the state Appellate Court upheld the FOI
Commission's finding that a subcommittee of the commission met
illegally even though it involved less than a quorum of the full board.
"The plain language of General Statutes...[is that it] does not require
a quorum as a necessary precondition to any hearing or other proceeding
of a public agency," the appellate court wrote in its decision. "The
legislature did not define a meeting as any hearing or proceeding of a
quorum of a public agency."
A subcommittee can be engaged in a public proceeding under the law if
multiple members gather "to discuss or act upon a matter over which the
public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power."
This is not the first round of closed "working group" meetings the
Department of Education has conducted in recent months. At the full
public meeting last week, each working group leader gave presentations
on decisions that already had been made.
The Mirror's requests for notification of these meetings and minutes
have gone unanswered. Neither did the education department inform the
Secretary of the State's Office of these meetings, as is required by
the state Freedom of Information law.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the
legislature's Education Committee, said that while he can appreciate
the need for this group to meet privately, he also understands it is
bound by the state's FOI laws.
"There are times when it's hard to develop new models and reach
agreement with everyone in the world looking on," the West Hartford
"If the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council has found that it needs
smaller groups to meet privately, and if that does not comply with the
Freedom of Information law, then they need to find a way to bring
themselves in conformance... They need to follow the law or come to us
and seek an exception."
Complaint filed over
reform consultant hiring
Ken Dixon, CT
p.m., Friday, April 27, 2012
HARTFORD -- The
head of a nonprofit consumer watchdog on Friday filed a whistleblower
complaint charging that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Education
Commissioner Stefan Pryor violated state law in the hiring of school
reform consultants in January.
executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, asked the
state's auditors of Public Accounts to investigate Pryor and Malloy's
use of a little-known agency, the State Education Resource Center, to
avoid state contracting rules in hiring two consultants for $269,000.
Andrew J. McDonald, Malloy's legal counsel, said Friday the charge
against the governor is "reckless" and "devoid of any evidence."
Robert M. Ward,
one of the two state auditors, said Friday that state rules requiring
the protection of anonymity in whistleblower limited him to only
confirming a complaint was filed.
well-known state activist, said he submitted the accusation after
reviewing state Department of Education e-mails and contracts, copies
of which he was given under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
some of which were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, indicate
Education First Inc., of Seattle, and Leeds Global Partners, of New
York, were both acting as consultants for Pryor even before their
contracts were signed earlier this year.
First's $60,000 contract and Leeds' for $195,000, plus other add-ons,
were paid by SERC. In addition, Pryor, who took his job last fall, said
recently that SERC was used to expedite development of the governor's
education proposals. Both firms are still on the job; extension of
their contracts is under discussion.
indicates the Education Department transferred funding to SERC at
around the time Leeds contract was approved on Jan. 26. Officials at
SERC have not returned several calls for comment.
education consultant, DSA Capital, of New Jersey, helped review the
credentials of Education First and Leeds before they were contracted,
the e-mails indicate.
Swan wants the
auditors to review DSA Capital's role as well. Hearst Connecticut
Newspapers reported this week that DSA Capital was paid by a national
organization of state education commissioners.
"I filed a
complaint because if it is and it should be illegal, they clearly
circumvented state law to hire a consultant, to hire another consultant
to write state law to hire more consultants," Swan said. "That kind of
procedure can't be good."
Swan said he
wanted the contracts terminated and the consultants banned from working
in Connecticut for five years.
"I want those
who broke the law to be held accountable," Swan said. "They are clearly
cronies of the commissioner." He contests Pryor's claim that SERC is a
nonprofit exempt from state bidding requirements, but rather is acting
as a direct agent for the state and isn't registered as a nonprofit.
contracts, which expired in March, are found to be improper, he doesn't
know what kind of relief would be available.
"I can confirm
our office has received a whistleblower complaint with regard to the
contracts involving the Department of Education, the State Education
Resource Center, Leeds Global Partners, Education First and DSA
Capital," Ward said Friday.
He noted there
is already a routine audit under way at the department and it will
expand to look into the contracting awards and SERC.
don't have the authority to grant relief, but under state law their
findings will be transferred to Attorney General George Jepsen for
further investigation, the eventual writing of a so-called closing
letter on the issue and possible further action.
commenting for the administration, said Friday he would be willing to
sit down with auditors and Swan "tomorrow" to review the issues,
support his claims, or apologize to the governor.
"This is one of
the more reckless efforts I've seen by Tom," McDonald said. "His
complaint is devoid of any evidence to support his sensational
conclusions regarding the governor. If not today, then sometime soon,
he'd better be prepared to put some substance behind these thin
Bill to allow public boards more
discretion to meet privately hits a
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
March 14, 2012
A proposal to give public agencies greater discretion to meet in closed
sessions with their attorneys has fallen into political limbo at the
Capitol. The legislature's Government Administration and
Elections Committee, which originally raised the bill and scheduled a
public hearing on the measure, suspended the latter and may not
reschedule it in the face of objections from right-to-know advocates.
"I am not committed to going forward with a public hearing right now,"
said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the GAE
committee. "There are very limited things you can go into executive
session for right now and we're always cautious about (changing) that."
The measure, which originally was slated for a public hearing on March
12, and later was considered to be heard next week, had been raised at
the request of Attorney General George Jepsen's office, which declined
comment late Wednesday afternoon. But it quickly drew opposition
from the state Freedom of Information Commission, as well as from the
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. The latter is a
coalition of nearly three dozen newspapers, television and radio
stations and other news media organizations.
"There's already too much secrecy in state and local government and
we're trying to prevent more," said CCFOI President Jim Smith, a
veteran Connecticut newspaper editor who retired last year as executive
editor of the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald.
Smith said his group fears the bill would open the door to potential
abuse of closed-door talks by public agencies. "They could go into
executive session and discuss anything and no one would know," he said.
At issue is a 26-year-old statute enacted to clarify when public
agencies can meet in private with legal counsel. The state's
right-to-know law has long allowed for private discussions on select
topics, such as pending litigation, contract negotiations and certain
personnel matters. But after a state Supreme Court ruling raised
new questions about closed sessions, the legislature acted in 1986 to
ensure that public agencies could not exclude the public from
discussions simply because legal counsel was involved. Instead
legislators said closed-door discussions specifically must be related
to a written document -- such as a legal opinion prepared by counsel.
In other words, public officials simply looking to pose broad questions
on sensitive topics to their lawyers could do so -- but only in open
"We have this great (statutory) language that essentially says the
lawyer represents the public agency, but the agency represents the
public," Colleen Murphy, executive director of the state FOI
Commission, said. "The client in this case is the public."
Murphy added that the state commission has "very strong reservations
about the bill. I think it would bring us back to (before) 1986, and
that would be locking the doors too quickly on public meetings."
Mitchell W. Pearlman, who served as the FOI Commission's executive
director for 28 years through 2005, testified in 1986 that without the
legislative fix, a government entity could meet privately "for whatever
reason it wanted to if it did so with an attorney under the excuse of
using the attorney/client privilege as it applies in non-governmental
The GAE committee faces a March 30 deadline for acting on bills it
raised this session.
passes emergency FOI fix
Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
The House of
Representatives adopted an emergency fix Thursday to the state's
right-to-know law that could break a legal logjam blocking the release
of voter lists and other omnibus public registries.
The bill, which
passed 120-11 and now heads to the Senate, would allow public agencies
to release major voter and property databases without the arduous task
of identifying and redacting addresses of police officers, prison
guards and other "protected" public employees.
argued that the measure, adopted without a public hearing, is
technically flawed, and offers little security to those employees
hoping to keep their personal information private.
And the head of
Connecticut's right-to-know agency warned Thursday that another
legislative fix still might be needed.
"This is a
whole lot better and helps the towns a whole lot more than what they
are dealing with now," said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield,
co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.
record-keepers at the state and municipal levels have been at odds
since last June when the state Supreme Court ruled that a statute
barring disclosure of home addresses of protected employees applied to
the motor vehicle registration lists that communities use to prepare
property tax bills.
Based on that
ruling, legislators said it became clear that the statute also would
apply to other common governmental databases, including voter
the State Denise W. Merrill said she hasn't released an updated
statewide voter registration list since that ruling, arguing there was
no way to do so and be certain that the law -- as interpreted by the
courts -- wouldn't be violated.
In theory the
lists could be released, provided the addresses of all protected
employees first were removed. But Merrill noted it would require
cross-referencing data from hundreds of state and municipal records.
"We can't even
figure out who to redact," she said. "We feel we would face liability
under this ruling."
adopted Thursday identifies three major classes of records that must be
released, in full, to the public starting June 1:
Municipal land records.
Voter registration lists, logs of absentee ballot applications and
related election information.
And municipal grand lists, the databases that detail assessed values of
land, building, motor vehicles subject to property taxes.
does allow protected employees to submit a request in writing to
municipal record-keepers, asking that their addresses be kept out of
argued this offers very little protection.
detective can find out where anybody lives within 48 hours" with access
to land, tax and voting records, said Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold.
"How much we are really accomplishing with this law is debatable."
The bill "gives
me great pause," added Rep. Pamela Z. Sawyer, R-Bolton, who argued that
the measure lacks uniformity. It is unclear which official in each
community will process requests for confidentiality, or how the
information might or might not be protected after someone from this
protected class moves from one Connecticut town to another.
surprise it is going to be," Sawyer said.
vanDeHoef, a lobbyist for the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association,
decried the decision of leaders in the Democratic-controlled House to
take up a bill not seen until Thursday to solve a problem that has
lingered since last summer.
association is disappointed that the legislature has chosen to make a
change in the FOI law -- via an emergency certified bill without a
public hearing," said vanDeHoef, who also lobbies for the Connecticut
Council on Freedom of Information. "We think the FOI law is more
important than that."
Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the bill wasn't adopted
Thursday to speed up the release of voter lists specifically or any
other particular public database.
begged by town clerks, other municipal officials, the secretary of the
state, real estate attorneys, title searchers and banks to fix this
immediately," he said, adding that when it became clear there was a
consensus in the House on how to act, leaders were ready to move.
"Everyone has their own reasons for wanting this fixed now."
Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, a candidate for Congress,
acknowledged that the unavailability of voting lists in an election
year is a problem.
vanDeHoef's groups were supporting a bill offered by Gov. Dannel P.
Malloy, a measure that was raised at a public hearing this week before
the legislature's Planning and Development Committee.
bill would have returned the FOI law to its pre-1999 status when it
came to protected public employees, keeping only those workers'
personnel records confidential.
spokesman, Andrew Doba, said Thursday that while the House bill "goes
in a different direction than the governor's legislation, the bill is
executive director of the state Freedom of Information Commission, said
she also fears that the House bill offers "somewhat illusory
protections" to select public employees.
"In this day
and age, where so much information is available electronically, the
approach in this bill is not very clean," she said. "I understand what
the legislature is trying to do, but the whole thing is somewhat
convoluted," she said. "Perhaps a more comprehensive look should be
taken in the future."
UNDER THEN MAYOR NOW GOVERNOR MALLOY, THIS
TYPE OF POLICY NOTHING
NEW FOR STAMFORD!
Change of course on Gabriele FOI complaint
Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 22, 2012
STAMFORD -- A state Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer
has changed course on a complaint city Rep. Sal Gabriele, R-16, lodged
against the Board of Representatives.
The officer, Victor Perpetua, appeared to side with Gabriele at a Jan.
30 commission hearing, which was held to discuss the city
representative's allegations that eight members of the board's
leadership violated the Freedom of Information Act by discussing,
signing and sending a letter related to city business without holding a
But in his proposed decision, which both parties received earlier this
week, Perpetua wrote that the letter did not constitute a proceeding of
the board and recommended dismissal of Gabriele's complaint.
"At the hearing, the hearing officer indicated on the record that he
believed that those actions constituted a proceeding of the respondent
board," Perpetua wrote in his finding, dated Feb. 2. "However, upon
review of the relevant case law, the hearing officer's conclusion was
premature, and regrettably erroneous."
Perpetua's proposed decision represents an abrupt reversal from the
January hearing in Hartford, during which he seemed so sure of his
support for Gabriele's position that he did not accept evidence on the
complaint and denied a request from Board of Representatives President
Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leader Harry Day to testify.
Skigen and Day did submit a 91-page response to the commission on Feb.
8, but it is unclear if the information played a factor in Perpetua's
proposed finding, which is dated six days earlier.
On Wednesday, Perpetua said he did not wish to comment beyond the text
of his preliminary finding.
"I don't comment on decisions, especially my own decisions, that are
still pending," he said.
Skigen and Day also said they did not wish to comment. Gabriele said he
plans to pursue his complaint. The full Freedom of Information
Commission will consider the grievance and Perpetua's proposed finding
at a March 28 meeting before issuing a final decision.
Gabriele now faces an uphill battle with his overall complaint, but he
pointed to a section of Perpetua's finding as a "big win for the
Stamford residents, who deserve openness and transparency in their city
Gabriele and his lawyer had claimed the board leadership -- which
comprises the president, clerk, and six majority and minority leaders
-- acted as a committee of the 40-member board when it signed and sent
a letter to former Director of Legal Michael Larobina last August.
Since the board's leadership did not conduct this activity in a public
setting, Gabriele alleged they were in violation of the Freedom of
The legal distinction of the board's leadership is significant. If the
FOI Commission decides the eight-member group constitutes a committee
of the Board of Representatives, the ruling would effectively halt the
leadership's longstanding practice of meeting in private, non-public
forums with each other and the mayor.
Public agency committees are required, under FOI laws, to meet in
public meetings for which advance notice is given.
In his four-page proposed decision, Perpetua indicated the leadership
group does represent a board committee.
"It is concluded that leadership members of the respondent constitute a
de facto subcommittee of the respondent Board," he wrote.
Gabriele said the statement is "good news for Stamford residents."
But Perpetua ultimately disagreed with the root of Gabriele's
complaint, which asserted that the leadership's decision to discuss,
sign and send a letter to Larobina amounted to a proceeding of the
board in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. While he said
"the leadership members of the board exercised at least some de facto
advisory power," in sending the letter, the activity in and of itself
was not an integral part of the larger board's business and therefore
not subject to FOI laws.
"The leadership members did not conduct business that would ordinarily
have been conducted by the respondent board as a whole, their actions
did not advance the business of the board as a whole, and the letter
they signed was not brought before the respondent board as either a
recommendation for action or as an action requiring ratification by the
board as a whole," Perpetua wrote. "It is therefore concluded that the
discussions surrounding the leadership members signing of the
president's letter ... did not constitute a proceeding of the
The letter in question was written by Skigen and sent to Larobina
questioning his decision to pay former Board of Finance Chairman Joe
Tarzia's legal fees for three civil lawsuits filed against him by city
"Before asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this action, I would
encourage you to seek either a court ruling or an opinion from
qualified, independent outside legal counsel," Skigen wrote. "I believe
the conclusion reached to provide counsel to Mr. Tarzia at taxpayer
expense is incorrect and should be reconsidered."
Board Clerk Annie Summerville also signed the letter, and the board's
six majority and minority leaders authorized administrative assistant
Valerie Pankosky to sign their names as well.
poised to win FOI complaint - previously in Stamford
Open government: Gabriele poised to win FOI complaint; reps have 'grave
Kate King, Staff Writer, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:49 p.m., Monday, January 30, 2012
HARTFORD -- City Rep. Sal Gabriele, R-16, won a preliminary victory
Monday in a Freedom of Information complaint lodged against the Board
of Representatives, the outcome of which could have far-reaching
effects within city government.
Gabriele and his Fairfield-based lawyer, Joe Sargent, appeared before
the state Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford Monday morning
for a hearing on Gabriele's complaint, which alleged eight members of
the board's leadership violated the Freedom of Information Act by
discussing, signing and sending a letter related to city business
without holding a public meeting. Board of Representatives
Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leaders Harry Day and Mary Fedeli also
attended the hearing, where they were represented by Stamford attorney
Commission hearing officer Victor Perpetua disagreed with Toma's
defense, which asserted the letter in question was not a government
proceeding and the board's eight-member leadership did not constitute a
government body subject to FOI laws. Perpetua did not accept
on the complaint and denied a request from Skigen and Day to testify at
"Not to minimize anybody's position, but it just seems obvious that a
group of leadership individuals ... acted as a group, as some type of
subset, either on behalf of or perhaps as a sub-committee," Perpetua
said. "They didn't do it in their personal capacities.
"I'm also going to rule, just sitting here now, that the discussion of
and signing and delivery of the letter constituted a proceeding for the
purpose of the (Freedom of Information) Act."
Perpetua said he would issue a proposed decision on the complaint and
recommend a remedy for consideration by the full commission. If upheld,
Gabriele's complaint could effectively halt a longstanding practice by
Board of Representatives' leadership to meet in private, non-public
forums with each other and the mayor. Gabriele, who has four FOI
complaints pending against the city, said he was not looking for the
commission to issue a monetary fine against the board.
"I would like for the entire Board of Representatives to take (Freedom
of Information Act) courses," he said after the hearing. "The
leadership of the Board of Representatives cannot have private meetings
with themselves or the mayor's office to discuss city business. We have
to have an open government. The residents of Stamford deserve to know
how their government operates."
Perpetua said both sides could send him legal briefs on the complaint
in order to influence his decision, and that if he changes his mind he
will reopen the complaint for a full hearing involving evidence and
testimony. He said he does not know when the commission will consider
his recommendation on the complaint. Skigen could not be reached
comment Monday afternoon. Day and Fedeli declined to comment.
Gabriele's complaint, dated Sept. 15, stemmed from an Aug. 15 letter
from Skigen to former Director of Legal Affairs Michael Larobina
questioning his decision to pay former Board of Finance Chairman Joe
Tarzia's legal fees for three civil lawsuits filed against him by city
employees. Board Clerk Annie Summerville also signed the letter, and
the board's six majority and minority leaders authorized administrative
assistant Valerie Pankosky to sign their names as well.
"Before asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this action, I would
encourage you to seek either a court ruling or an opinion from
qualified, independent outside legal counsel," Skigen wrote. "I believe
the conclusion reached to provide counsel to Mr. Tarzia at taxpayer
expense is incorrect and should be reconsidered."
Tarzia, a longtime finance board member who resigned in February after
fighting several ethics complaints, was served with three civil
lawsuits over the summer. The actions, lodged by Director of Operations
Ernie Orgera, Fleet Manager Michael Scacco and former Human Resources
Generalist Tania Barnes, allege Tarzia improperly sued them in October
2010 without probable cause.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Tarzia, Larobina said the city would obtain
independent counsel for the former finance board chairman while
reserving the right to recover the cost of Tarzia's legal fees should
the courts rule against him. In the Aug. 15 letter, Skigen and the
board's leadership asked Larobina to seek a second legal opinion or
court ruling on whether the city was liable for Tarzia's legal
"If either a court or outside counsel determines that Mr. Tarzia is
entitled to legal representation at the taxpayers' expense, we would
encourage you to seek an additional appropriation for such costs, since
we do not believe that your budget for this year anticipated funding
for outside counsel of this situation," the letter said.
Sargent said the reference to an additional appropriation request was
included to influence Larobina into seeking outside counsel on the
matter. The Board of Finance and Board of Representatives have the
power to approve or deny additional funding requests from city
departments, including Legal Affairs.
"This letter was taken with such gravity that it forced corporation
counsel to file a lawsuit for declaratory judgment," Sargent said.
Toma said the letter did not constitute an official proceeding by the
board because the board has no power over the legal department and its
eight-member leadership does not constitute a quorum of the 40-member
"The leadership are individuals and they cannot act formally on behalf
of the board," Toma said. "That letter was a letter from leadership
making a case to corporation counsel that his decision should be
reconsidered. We would disagree that there was a proceeding of the
Perpetua said he felt the Board of Representatives does indeed have
limited advisory power over city departments. He also said he was not
convinced the board's leadership did not constitute a section of the
board engaged in conducting city business.
"Everyone knows that the leadership is a subset of the board," he said.
"It's common knowledge. They get together, they make decisions, they go
back or don't go back to their caucuses and seek to have those
Toma unsuccessfully requested Skigen and Day be allowed to testify at
"They have grave concerns that the import of some of the observations
that you've made may make it very difficult for a 40-member board to
operate if there are certain limitations on leadership to discuss
things," he said. "I've been told that leadership communicates
regularly on administrative issues like that. They frankly find it
troubling that there could be a reading of the (Freedom of Information
Act) that would require leadership to meet in an open meeting."
Perpetua denied the request to testify by saying he did not think it
would not influence his conclusions, but said he would make a note of
Skigen and Day's concerns in his recommendation.
"I don't think it changes the result," he said.
they did, ultimately withdrawing offer to Republican.
urge SEEC to reject Giuliano as new director
Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 13, 2012
The co-chairmen of the legislature's Government Administration and
Elections Committee called Friday afternoon for the state's elections
watchdog panel to reconsider its plans to name former Middletown Mayor
Sebastian Giuliano as its new executive director.
Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg,
D-Milford, told the State Elections Enforcement Commission by letter
that Giuliano does not meet the basic qualification required of
commissioners: that he be at least three years removed from partisan
Giuliano, a Republican, served three terms as Middletown's mayor
through 2011. He lost his bid for a fourth term last November, defeated
by Democrat Dan Drew. The commission announced Thursday that it planned
to name Giuliano to the executive director's post at a meeting
"I strongly believe the SEEC must first and foremost be an independent
watchdog of Connecticut's elections policies, procedures and processes,
without even a hint of partisanship, and a chief elected official, of
any party and any municipality, who served in office and ran for
re-election as recently as this nominee, compromises that desire for
irrefutable nonpartisanship," Slossberg said.
"Individual SEEC commissioners must be removed from partisan politics
for three full years before they are eligible to serve; I think the
same standard should be applied to the agency's staff positions as
well," she said.
"There is no place for partisan politics at Elections Enforcement,"
Morin said. "In essence, the commissioners are naming an executive
director whose feet are still tired from walking the campaign trail.
This is a job that rises above party politics -- even the slightest
hint of partisanship would contaminate Election Enforcement's ability
to carry out its mission."
Giuliano was one of two former mayors in the pool of four finalists. He
faced competition from a Democrat, who is more than three years removed
from elective office, who was backed by a top official of Common Cause,
the advocacy group often seen as an ally of the commission at the state
The Democrat confirmed he was a finalist, speaking on condition of
anonymity so as not to jeopardize his current job. One other finalist
was the chief operating officer of a municipality. The fourth had no
Stephen F. Cashman, the chairman of the commission, said he would
review the letter, but the call for being clear of partisan politics
for three years is not required of the director.
"All I can indicate is that requirement was neither in the job
description, which was posted by DAS, nor is it part of the statute
associated with the appointment of the executive director," Cashman
said. "It seems they are asking us to impose a condition that has not
DAS is the Department of Administrative Services, which oversees hiring.
Giuliano could not be reached.
In addition to saying that Giluliano too recently was an active
partisan, Slossberg and Morin also drew a parallel between Giuliano's
situation and state ethics standards.
The legislators noted that ethics rules guard against more than just
outright conflicts of interest, but also caution against the appearance
of a conflict. The executive director of an agency that oversees and
enforces fair elections, including Connecticut's public campaign
financing program, should appear to be far removed from any office that
has a stake in these services.
Both legislative leaders added that their objections are not personal.
"I'm not attacking the former mayor," Morin said. "I respect what he
did" in municipal service.
"We need an independent watchdog agency that doesn't have the
appearance of even a smattering of partisanship," Slossberg said.
See other article.
mayor to oversee elections enforcement
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 12, 2012
For the first
time, the state's elections watchdog agency has chosen a politician and
an outsider to lead its operations, tapping Sebastian N. Giuliano, a
Republican fresh off a losing re-election campaign for mayor of
Elections Enforcement Commission named Giuliano on Thursday to become
its new executive director and general counsel, giving the agency its
first director with a partisan past and experience as a candidate. He
also would be the first director in decades who was not a career state
served six years as Middletown's chief executive until losing his bid
for a fourth term in November to Democrat Dan Drew, who was strongly
backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Giuliano succeeds Albert P. Lenge, who
retired in November.
"In light of
the challenges we face in the area of public campaign financing and
agency consolidation issues, I have every confidence that Sebastian
Giuliano possesses the knowledge and experience to lead the
commission," said Stephen F. Cashman, the commission's chairman. "We
believe he is the right guy for the job."
Giuliano stood out in a crowded field of candidates, but he may need to
overcome some skepticism among Democratic proponents of public
financing in the legislature.
public financiing program was opposed by most Republicans, including
the former party chairman who ran Giuliano's first successful campaign
for mayor, Chris Healy.
described Giuliano as a committed and dynamic leader with more than 20
years of experience practicing law in Connecticut. A 1975 graduate of
Boston College, he received his law degree in 1978 from Catholic
University in Washington, D.C. He also attended the U.S. Military
Academy at West Point.
appointment comes less than seven months after the commission was
reclassified as a division -- along with eight other watchdog agencies
-- within the new state Office of Governmental Accountability.
Along with the
merger, the commission also has been challenged by deep budget cuts and
reduced funding for the public financing program for state elections.
million has been removed from the Citizens' Election Fund over the past
three years to close budget gaps. The fund's main source of revenue,
its share of proceeds from the sale of abandoned properties, was cut by
43 percent this fiscal year. Malloy and the legislature also cut cut
one-third of the staffing for the commission in the current budget.
It is unclear
if the commission has adequate staff to process applications for public
financing, which will come in a rush later this year, when all 187
members of the General Assembly are up for re-election. About
three-quarters of lawmakers have used the fund.
spent two years as executive director starting in the fall of 2009, had
served the commission for 14 years prior to that as deputy director and
assistant general counsel.
Jeffrey B. Garfield, who had been executive director for 30 years until
his retirement in 2009.
spared as Malloy nails down budget cuts
Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
Gov. Dannel P.
Malloy's administration already has secured one-fifth of this year's
savings called for in the union concession deal--and apparently won't
be trying to take any more funding from Connecticut's three chief
Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes reported Tuesday that
$135 million was withheld from agencies' budget allotments for July
through September--the first quarter of fiscal 2011-12--reflecting
savings tied to layoffs, a wage freeze, retirements, benefit
restrictions, facility closings and schedule reductions, and other
Malloy's budget director, also said that while his office hadn't
completed its review of all vacant positions funded in this year's
budget, he anticipates that the Freedom of Information and State
Election Enforcement commissions, as well as the Office of State
Ethics, would be allowed to fill four budgeted posts that the
administration effectively had frozen since July 1.
And when the
elections panel's executive director, Albert Lenge, retires at month's
end, the commission also likely would be allowed to fill his post,
conference marked the administration's first public update on this
fiscal year's $20.14 billion budget since the State Employees
Bargaining Agent Coalition ratified a two-year, $1.6 billion concession
package in mid-August.
which is projected to save $700 million in this fiscal year, left the
administration with a huge savings target to keep the budget in balance.
administration orders "holdbacks," or reductions each quarter in agency
allotments, as various programmatic cuts and other savings are
year the process is even more critical than in most," Barnes said.
While some of
the savings behind that figure is relatively easy to achieve--such as
$138 million from a wage freeze--the administration concedes that
others will take considerable effort. These include $170 million in
total to come from three labor-management panels charged with finding
cost-saving ideas in technology, health care and across state
government in general.
In addition to
the $700 million target, this year's budget also includes a $112
million general savings target not tied to the concession agreement
that the administration also must achieve to keep finances in balance.
Barnes said the
administration relied heavily on cost-saving ideas identified earlier
this summer by department heads when it appeared that concessions were
in jeopardy and that other savings would have to be found.
"We claim no
originality here," he said.
million of the $135 million in first-quarter savings is tied to
personnel, stemming from the wage freeze, reductions in overtime,
retirements and layoffs. Bargaining units representing state police and
prison guard supervisors refused to accept the wage freeze, and Malloy
cut 56 jobs from the former and 21 from the latter.
One of the
single-largest savings involves $5.8 million from the planned closure
of the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield.
The plan also
saves more than $2.4 million by reducing hours of operation in some
state buildings, ordering cutbacks in maintenance and security, and
administration had drawn criticism earlier this summer when it ordered
layoffs of non-union personnel at the state's three chief watchdog
agencies, and also refused to allow vacant, budgeted positions to be
filled--all while union concessions were in jeopardy.
watchdog groups, along with six others, were merged by the governor and
legislature this past spring into a new Office of Governmental
Accountability, as state officials struggled to close a built-in
shortfall for 2011-12 that once stood as large as $3.67 billion.
legislation merging the nine groups directed them to share personnel,
payroll, affirmative action and administration and business functions
but reserved each individual division's control over "budgetary issues
and concerning the employment of necessary staff to carry out the
Even after the
concessions were granted, Barnes' office did not immediately agree to
allow restoration of these posts, but rather invited the watchdogs to
appeal for their return.
complicating matters, watchdog leaders and with some lawmakers noted
that seven years ago, at the height of the scandal that drove former
Gov. John G. Rowland from office, the legislature legally insulated
Connecticut's FOIC, ethics and elections enforcement from any emergency
cuts after the budget had been adopted, arguing this was essential to
keep government open and honest.
these agencies were permitted to use budgeted funds to fill vacancies,
the spirit of that law--and possibly the letter of it as well--would be
violated, critics argued.
"I expect that
we will," allow these three agencies to fill those vacant, budgeted
positions, Barnes said. "Obviously they have statutory protections with
respect to their budgets that are unusual."
positions include communications and technology managers at elections
enforcement, an ethics program manager at the Office of State Ethics,
and the second-ranking post at FOIC, the managing director and
associate general counsel's job.
Enforcement Commission also raised concerns recently when Albert P.
Lenge, its executive director since October 2009, announced he would
retire after Sept. 30.
already lost a high-ranking leadership post that oversees the state
election system's public financing program during the reorganization
into the Office of Governmental Accountability.
division is to remain independent, then the absolutely have to have
their own executive director appointed by the commission," Sen. Gayle
Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Government
Administration and Elections Committee said Tuesday.
should have the right to choose from a full field of capable
candidates" for the next director, Lenge said. "I think that's
extremely critical for this commission to maintain its autonomy."
was one of those lawmakers who urged Malloy not to lay off workers or
freeze posts in those three watchdog agencies, had been a critic of the
merger plan adopted this past spring.
originally sought a more extreme consolidation plan, which called for
one homogenous government watchdog agency performing multiple functions
with a director appointed by the governor. Lawmakers instead opted for
directing nine watchdog entities to share administrative resources
while otherwise preserving their autonomy.
are pretty clear about the autonomy of those commissions," Barnes said
Tuesday, adding that he expected the administration would not attempt
to block elections officials from filling the vacancy after Lenge
retires. "We'll follow the statute."
ACLU questions use of 'cell phone dragnets'
a.m., Thursday, August 4, 2011
HARTFORD -- Six
cities across the state, plus the Connecticut State
Police, were the targets Wednesday of an effort to gauge the extent
that law enforcement may be using cellphone locations to invade privacy.
Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut joined other ACLU
offices in a nationwide campaign to determine whether police are
improperly tracking people using their cellphone data. It's one of the
first efforts at protecting digital privacy.
Information Act requests were sent to the state police and
local police departments of Danbury, Waterbury, New Haven, Willimantic,
New London and Berlin in what could be the start of a multiyear effort
to determine whether privacy rights have been violated.
Berlin, where a warrantless federal tracking campaign occurred in 2008,
the cities were selected geographically.
The ACLU asked
whether law enforcement officials show probable cause
and obtain warrants from judges before obtaining cellphone location
information; and how often they seek such information.
the ACLU requested budget totals on the cost of local
cellphone tracking; and policies and procedures for gathering location
staff attorney for the ACLU of Connecticut, said in that
although Connecticut is relatively small, there are varying police
"We tried to
pick departments that had some substantial activity and
were widely dispersed," said McGuire, adding that similar requests
occurred Wednesday in 30 other states. "Nationwide it is a large
problem and innocent people are being caught in these cellphone
dragnets. We're trying to understand the magnitude of the problem."
Chief Alan Baker confirmed the ACLU request made under the state's
Freedom of Information Act.
"We did receive
the request and like all FOI requests, it has been
referred to corporation counsel for review," Baker said. "We anticipate
it will take between 30 and 45 days to comply, which is standard. It's
an emerging area of the law, and I don't know how much documentation we
might have on it."
Lt. J. Paul
Vance, spokesman for the state police, confirmed in a
Wednesday phone interview that the state Department of Public Safety
utilizes cellphone data. "We might use cellphone records depending on
the investigation and what's required," Vance said. "We use cellphone
records and sometimes it's helpful in criminal investigations. We don't
use cellphone information for anything more than criminal
investigations. We can and do obtain search warrants as required. It's
not our intent to trample on anyone's rights."
that the current requests for information were not given
to the FBI because local police are the focus of this initial research
federal agents got details on calls to and from 180 mobile
phones serviced by nine carriers, including the locations of the
phones, in what amounted to an act of "mass surveillance," in Berlin, a
southern suburb of Hartford, he said.
"This is very
much the same as the government walking into private
homes on a fishing expedition, without a warrant, and searching the
premises," McGuire said. "And technology has made it a whole lot
easier. These people were subjected to an unconstitutional search and
never even knew it. If any law enforcement agencies in the state are
carrying out similar intrusions, the public should know about it."
The ACLU said
that more than 375 requests in 31 states were made by 34
ACLU affiliates to delve into the secret use of mobile phone-tracking
"The ability to
access cellphone location data is an incredibly
powerful tool and its use is shrouded in secrecy. The public has a
right to know how and under what circumstances their location
information is being accessed by the government," said Catherine Crump,
staff attorney for the national ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology
Project, in a statement. "A detailed history of someone's movements is
extremely personal and is the kind of information the Constitution
Constitution guarantees Americans freedom from unwarranted
government intrusion everywhere -- in their homes, online and on their
cell phones," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of
Connecticut. "Technology may make it easier for that intrusion to
happen, but that's no excuse for it."
information about the ACLU requests is available at:
OP-ED | Problems Belie CT’s Strong FOI
Cowgill | Jul 29, 2011 9:58am
for five years as a journalist in New York, a state with
relatively weak freedom-of-information laws, I have long bragged about
living in Connecticut, where our Freedom of Information Commission
actually has some teeth.
In New York, if
I was barred unlawfully from a meeting or denied access
to public records, all I could really do was either file an FOI request
for the materials or call the estimable Bob Freeman, who still heads
the state’s Committee on Open Government. I could get a quote or two
from Freeman about the injustice of it all and then publish a story to
that effect. Of course, I could also file a lawsuit against the
municipality or school district, but that required time and resources
my tiny newspaper company simply did not have.
When I started
working as journalist in the Nutmeg state, I breathed a
sigh of relief. Reporters and their publishers could file formal
complaints to the FOIC and often they were granted hearings to air
their grievances. The commission could file declaratory rulings, grant
relief and, if necessary, refer matters to the courts for further
review and possible action.
But, as you
might expect, even in a state that respects freedom of
information and open government, there are still parties that try
mightily to avoid compliance or erect unreasonable barriers to the
public’s right to know. Two examples caught my eye this month.
A Rocky Hill
gadfly named Ed Peruta walked into his local state police
barracks and asked to see all accident reports prepared by two state
troopers. Police told Peruta he would have to pay a $16 “inspection
fee” per report for the 400 or so he wanted to see. Mind you, all
Peruta wanted to do was review the documents, not have them photocopied
or scanned. Just for the privilege of eyeballing the reports, Peruta
was told he’d have to pony up $6,352.
filed a complaint, the FOIC rode to the rescue. Last week,
a hearing officer for the commission released a draft decision, which
the FOIC will rule on at its Aug. 10 meeting, that acknowledged the
police have the statutory authority to charge a reasonable fee to cover
clerical work associated with FOI requests. But the decision said the
cops should make accident and investigative reports available for
simple viewing to the public free-of-charge. Bravo. Since there were no
costs associated with Peruta’s request, the inspection fee was nothing
but an expensive roadblock designed to dissuade the curious from taking
a peek at how the state police do business.
Of course, for
every step forward it seems like we take another one
back. A recent state Supreme Court decision overruled the FOIC and
affirmed a statutory exemption to FOI laws regarding the disclosure of
home addresses on municipal documents of certain state employees. The
reason for the exemption, as the court and the General Assembly saw it,
is that the availability of those addresses might subject employees
such as police and corrections officials to harassment or danger.
According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, another bill pending in the
General Assembly is more explicit. It would, “without exception, make
it illegal to release home addresses of anyone in the 12 public
employee groups.” Fair enough, you might say?
to the Law Tribune, over the years the roster of the
“protected classes” of state employees has swollen from two (police and
prison guards) to a dozen:
“The list now
includes every Judicial Branch employee, federal and
state judges, all employees of the Department of Children and Families,
and employees of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction services
who provide direct patient care. The exempted addresses also include
any lawyer who has been a public defender, or a social worker in those
president of the Connecticut Foundation For Open Government,
told me that the state’s FOI laws “always start out strong but every
year folks chisel away at them. In this case, the exceptions simply
To make matters
even worse, these state workers are not required to ask
that their addresses be removed from these documents. Municipal
officials are presumed to magically know which records to redact.
So let me get
this straight: the protected classes expand exponentially
and their ranks are not expected to take any initiative to protect
themselves? The General Assembly simply passes laws with enormous
practical consequences for cities and towns and says, “Ok, now you
protect them?” And in their spare time, town clerks and assessors are
supposed to peruse thousands of documents and track property owners
down to determine where they work — all without compensation from the
state? This is the unfunded mandate from hell.
the number of exceptions, it could be a nightmare,”
Barbara Bigos, the assessor for my hometown of Salisbury, told me in a
phone conversation this week. “It could affect every office in town
hall and require lots of extra hours. It would be impossible to guess
every property owner’s occupation.”
Then there is
the matter of hiding the addresses during public
proceedings. How, Claude Albert of the Connecticut Counsel on Freedom
of Information asked the Law Tribune, could an applicant from one of
the protected classes make his case for a property improvement before a
planning and zoning commission without disclosing the address of his
Bigos said it’s
relatively easy to own property without disclosing your
true identity on town records. At minimal expense, any property owner
can form a limited liability corporation (LLC) and list the name of the
corporation as the owner. Or a property owner can designate a trustee
or attorney who would be listed in the assessor’s records instead of
the owner himself.
the Law Tribune, the General Assembly’s Judiciary
Committee “declined to vote the proposed bill out of committee this
past session in light of the controversy and the then-pending Supreme
Court decision.” State Sen. Gerald M. Fox III expects his panel to
“seek solutions to satisfy both sides.”
suggestion: craft a “solution” that puts the bulk of the
responsibility for hiding addresses on the employees themselves. Then
consider thinning the ranks of the protected classes. After all, what
kind of risk is there in listing the home address of a custodian at DCF?
truly a national leader in freedom-of-information law,”
How true. But
not if we allow that law to be unduly weakened by the
enemies of openness.
Retired FOI czar
ready to lead unified watchdog group for free
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
July 29, 2011
leader of Connecticut's right-to-know agency for three decades -- and
who referred to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to merge nine watchdog
groups "a disaster" is one of five finalists to head the unified Office
of Governmental Accountability.
And Mitchell W.
Pearlman, who retired in 2005 after 30 years with the Freedom of
Information Commission and 28 years as its executive director and
general counsel, also pledged to forfeit his salary if given the job.
scheduled to be interviewed later Friday by the division heads within
the new Office of Governmental Accountability. That panel must
recommend at least three finalists by the end of business Monday to
Malloy, but can submit more. The governor must appoint a director from
that pool of candidates.
division heads began public interviews Friday, with more scheduled for
Monday. According to panel's personnel search committee report, the
group is looking primarily from within Connecticut government for a new
director to oversee business and administrative functions.
happening, I thought it would be unfair for me to collect a salary,"
Pearlman, a Glastonbury lawyer, said, adding that the only benefit he
would accept is coverage against on-the-job injuries under workers'
compensation system. "If I can save a job or two, that's good."
collecting a pension from his former FOI post and said "I don't think
this organization needs a double-dipper" who receives a salary as well.
The former FOIC
chief said in May that it would be "a disaster" for the state's
right-to-know program if the legislature adopted Malloy's plan to merge
the FOIC with eight other watchdog panels. That merger would threaten
the independence the agency needs to evaluate right-to-know compliance
among all of state and municipal government in Connecticut. he argued.
legislature backed Malloy and merged nine watchdog agencies when it
adopted the $20.14 billion state budget for the fiscal year that began
FOIC, the new Office of Governmental Accountability also includes: the
Office of State Ethics; the State Elections Enforcement Commission; the
Office of the Victim Advocate; the Office of the Child Advocate; the
Judicial Selection Commission and Review Council; the State Contracting
Standards Board; and the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners.
requires the nine divisions to share personnel, payroll, affirmative
action and administration and business functions. But the budget
legislation reserves each individual division's control over "budgetary
issues and concerning the employment of necessary staff to carry out
the statutory duties."
has served as a lecturer in journalism and law at the University of
Connecticut since retiring from the FOIC, was one of three candidates
interviewed Friday. "This is the first time I've been on this side of
the table in 40 years," he joked.
"I started off
with the notion: Do no harm to the substantive missions of the
agencies," Pearlman said in describing the philosophy he would take to
the job. "I will try to mediate disagreements. I don't think I'm the
boss." That job, he said, belongs to the nine division heads. Finding
"efficiency is in there. It's in the mix. But it't not first."
"I feel very
strongly about the independence of the watchdog and advocacy agencies,"
he said, adding he is applying only because he wants to mitigate any
damage the merger could do to the respective missions of the watchdog
agencies. "I really don't want the job.
legislature and Malloy "overdid it" with the merger, the former FOI
chief said he believes some cost-saving efficiencies can be found. But
the former FOI chief said he does worry that integrating computer
networks could make vulnerable confidential data.
interviewed Friday were Gloria Davis Delancy of Bloomfield, chief
fiscal and administrative officer at the FOIC since 1998, and Michael
J. Purcaro of Ellington, chief administrative officer for the state
Department of Public Health since 2009.
who also served for 10 years before that as an associate budget analyst
with the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, said one
of her goals would be to keep the governor's budget office "out of your
kitchen," arguing the administration is exercising considerable control
over watchdog agency finances. "I don't like it."
The head of one
watchdog agency questioned earlier this month whether that fiscal
autonomy already had been compromised.
executive director of the Office of State Ethics within the new Office
of Government Accountability, objected to Malloy's naming of an acting
executive director of the new OGA to help determine how a $1.61 million
budget cut will be apportioned among OGA's nine divisions.
statute only allows the governor to appoint an acting director "If the
Governmental Accountability Commission has not submitted such list to
the governor on or before August 1, 2011."
officials insisted Malloy didn't intend to exceed his authority on June
30 when he appointed Karen Buffkin, OPM undersecretary for legal
affairs, to serve as acting executive director. Buffkin was named only
to help coordinate how the spending cut would be apportioned among the
"I know that
this is a difficult change for a lot of people," Purcaro said during
his interview Friday, adding the merger nonetheless is the law and that
it would be his role as director to ensure all divisions cooperate to
meet budgetary deadlines and cost-cutting benchmarks. "Collaborating is
key in what we're doing here."
held several other posts at DPH between 1999 and 2009 including
communications manager, chief contracting and grants officer and
director of a disaster training center.
candidates selected for interview to be held Monday are:
of South Windsor, executive director of the state Board of Accountancy
of Bridgeport, who served as Department of Motor Vehicles Commission
from 1993 to 1995 and as deputy commissioner of Transportation from
1991 to 1993 under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Hadley has
worked as a real estate development consultant for the last 11 years.
From 2004 to 2009 she also worked for the city of Bridgeport, first as
director of the Office of Planning and Development and later as senior
project manager for the city housing authority.
Compromise sought on
15, 2009 7:17 AM EDT
HARTFORD — When
it was approved last year, a law requiring Connecticut municipalities
to quickly post their meeting minutes online was hailed by supporters
as significantly boosting public access to information.
In the five
months since it went into effect, however, several small towns have
suspended their Web sites instead and others are considering it, all
saying they lack the technology or money to comply with the new posting
rules. Now, several compromises are being considered at the
General Assembly to balance the law’s original intent with the towns’
concerns about being fined for violating the state Freedom of
“Some of the
towns aren’t used to posting things regularly, so we do recognize this
could be a new challenge,” said state Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex.
“Maybe with a little time to figure out how to do it, the towns may
find that it’s easier than they initially thought it would be.”
The law, which
went into effect Oct. 1, requires municipalities to post agendas on
their Web sites at least 24 hours before all public meetings and their
minutes within a week afterward. Several town leaders, especially
in small communities, complained to their legislators that they rely on
part-time or volunteer Webmasters. Others said complying with the law
would mean paying more to contractors for the extra work, equating to
an unfunded state mandate.
comply could result in complaints to the state Freedom of Information
Commission. At least nine towns have suspended their Web sites since
October rather than risk facing an FOI complaint for violating the new
rules. The legislature’s committee on government administration
and elections, which Spallone co-chairs, recently endorsed a bill
intended to offer some middle ground.
it would let towns grant themselves a waiver in the first year without
explanation to state officials, and in the second year by stating their
rationale to the FOI Commission. “Maybe the FOI Commission can work
with the towns and we wouldn’t need a legislative fix,” he said.
He said he
hopes that by the third year, small towns will have found ways to
comply or technology will have advanced enough to make the process
easier for them. Spallone said he thinks most towns would gladly
comply if they could work out their financial and logistical
concerns. The law got little discussion during last year’s
legislative session. It was tacked onto a much-publicized law that
revokes pensions of state officials who are convicted of illegal
activities in office.
“It did come as
a surprise to many people in the towns, so what we want to do now is
provide more opportunity for the towns to accomplish it, and for the
state government to find out their concerns,” Spallone said.
Bransfield, Portland’s first selectwoman and president of the
Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said she also believes towns want
to provide as much access to documents as possible for citizens.
But it can be difficult to do that when budgets are so tight and the
fear of an FOI complaint is hanging over their heads, she said.
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns and Connecticut Conference of
Municipalities both want last year’s law completely repealed.
disagree with what the lawmakers were trying to do. I think it’s
absolutely important that constituents and people interested in what’s
going on in town have access to information,” Bransfield said.
difficult is trying to guarantee that you can be 100 percent in
compliance with the law,” she said. “Even in towns like mine where we
get a lot of help and assistance, it’s unnecessary that if an FOI
complaint comes across the desk, we could be fined or slapped on the
wrist or whatever.”
lawmakers have proposed more than a dozen bills on the topic in the
current General Assembly session. Some would repeal last year’s
law entirely. Others seek compromises to exempt smaller communities or
ease the potential punishments for towns who try in good faith to obey
legislature’s government administration and elections committee last
week endorsed the middle-ground proposal backed by Spallone and others.
It now heads to the Senate, and would go into effect immediately if the
full General Assembly approves it.
of Women Voters of Norwalk hosts FOI forum
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
learned details of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, and had
an opportunity to ask questions, during an educational forum hosted by
The League of Women Voters of Norwalk at City Hall on Thursday night.
A question by
Tara Forschino, a Fox Run Elementary School PTO member, bore
resemblance to a recent FOI request filed by parents of special needs
children within the larger school district.
"If there is,
whether it be, say a teacher or law enforcement, and there are
background checks done," Forschino said. "If that information is in
someone's file, and someone wants to evaluate just that specific
information out of someone's personnel file, where would that fall?"
public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information
Commission and guest speaker at the forum, had no simple answer for
people looking for a blanket explanation.
matters on what's in there," Hennick said. "But if you go ask for a
background check on a teacher you believe is doing something improper,
that would sort of, in my mind, spill it toward a matter of public
concern and make sure it's released.
"But it really
is a case-by-case basis," Hennick added.
About two dozen
people attended the FOI Act Education Forum at City Hall. The forum
two high-profile FOI requests in Norwalk. In one request,
initially labeled as overly broad and since settled, Ward B Democrats
sought "all sent and received information" regarding the municipal
In the other,
parents of special needs children within the Norwalk public schools
system sought information about Stacy Lore, the executive director of
Spectrum Kids, LLC. They want proof of Lore's professional credentials
and evidence that the district verified those credentials before it
hired her firm to provide autism therapy for children in the
district. Forschino told The
Hour afterward that her question did not refer to the Lore case, but
rather sought advice on how parents should proceed, if they have
concerns about a teacher.
90-minute forum, Hennick outlined key aspects of the FOI Act, and
answered questions from Forschino, league President Diane Lauricella
"We want you to
take back the information (provided tonight)," Lauricella said. "We
think if you sharpen your pencils, it helps you hone in on what kind of
information you need."
many people believe the FOI Act, which became law 33 years ago, is
about "free information," when it in fact addresses access to public
should probably be freedom of access, because the Freedom of
Information (Act) ... allows you to watch your government in action,"
Hennick said. "It's about transparency."
Under the act,
citizens have the right, with certain exceptions, to obtain records and
attend meetings of all public agencies. Such access applies to
committees as well as subcommittees. By a two-thirds
vote, a public board may go behind closed doors to discuss a personnel
matter, a pending claim or litigation, a security matter, the sale,
lease or purchase of a property, or a document or record
the board believes is exempt from disclosure, Hennick said.
shouldn't, but often do play a role in FOI requests, according to
"If you walk
into an office and ask for a record that's not exempt, you're not
supposed to be asked what it's for. The agency doesn't have a right to
ask you what you want it for," he said.
Hennick, the number of formal complaints filed with the FOI Commission
has grown steadily. In 2006, the commission received 687 formal
complaints. Last year, that number grew to 716. With three weeks
remaining in the current year, the commission has received 765
are finding out about FOI, but also, sadly to us, more people are using
FOI as a weapon," Hennick said.
some FOI requests are onerous, asking for thousands of pages of
take their zoning seriously in lower Fairfield County...not exactly an
FOI matter, but one that crosses the lines--is it ethics, FOI or "open
government" at stake?
Steps taken for safety at
Launched: 03/21/2008 02:51:14 PM EDT
fanfare, Westport leaders are making an effort to provide more safety
at town meetings.
The decision was
made after a resident created a
disturbance at a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Feb. 26.
Robert Adler, of Owenoke Park, confronted ZBA members about the
construction of a dormer at his home. Adler claimed his application
five years earlier was similar but was rejected.
Prior to the start
of Wednesday's ZBA meeting, an
executive session was held with First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and
Westport Police Chief Al Fiore in attendance.
"We are constantly
evaluating," said Joseloff in a
telephone interview yesterday morning when asked about the session.
"Briefly, we talked about what has been done and what procedures to use
in the future."
As it stands now,
there will be more of a police
presence at meetings in town -- especially at night. Uniformed officers
will be "popping in" during the course of Town Hall meetings but not be
present all of the time.
addition, a plainclothes officer is attending the series of six public
hearings by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for the
Westport Weston Family Y's application for a new facility. Asked
for comment, Fiore said, "I thought they [the board members] handled
things appropriately." He also suggested that people call the police if
there is a problem.
After the Feb. 26
incident, Joseloff and other town
officials started looking at ways to increase safety at Town Hall
selectman pointed out that he wrote an
opinion column for the Westport News issue of March 5. He also
prepared a memo for department heads and all chairmen of all boards and
Since the memo and
column, there has been a greater
police presence, according to Joseloff. Since the Adler incident there
has been a uniformed officer in meeting rooms or nearby.
selectman emphasized that he doesn't want
to infringe on anyone's right to speak at meetings but there is a line
"when someone gets physically threatening."
were held prior to the Wednesday
evening executive session.
Also, there may be
security cameras in the future.
The town might already be prepared on that front because meetings in
Town Hall are recorded even if there isn't a live broadcast.
"We walked out of
the Wednesday meeting feeling happy
Gordon [Joseloff] had addressed the issue," said Jim Ezzes, the ZBA
chairman. "By having police on alert, we were pleased it will be a
normal part of meeting control."
fracas, Ezzes said, "It was a very
frightening, very threatening experience to be attacked by someone in
this blind rage and not knowing why."
At the meeting in
which Ezzes said the board couldn't
discuss the previous request, Adler became angry and repeated his
request. When he did so a third time, Ezzes told Adler to leave the
meeting or he would call the police.
In the final
chapter of the tense evening at Town
Hall, Westport police arrived three minutes after the phone call to the
relief of Ezzes and the other ZBA board members.
Stop School E-Mail Abuse
North Stonington have every right to be concerned that a
public school teacher used her work e-mail account to send out
And despite the
public apology of Darren Robert, the Democratic
chairman of the town's Board of Education, a thorough investigation of
the alleged misuse of the e-mail system should be instigated.
employees should never, ever use public property for political
The dust-up in
North Stonington is jarringly similar to a situation
that occurred in New London last May. In the Whaling City instance,
Alvin G. Kinsall, the Democratic chairman of the Board of Education,
asked the administrative aide to the superintendent of schools to send
out an e-mail to district employees and supporters to head off a move
by two city councilors to cut $500,000 from the education budget.
In this case,
the employee did what the school board chairman asked
her. But the message she sent was politically charged and should have
signaled a red flag. The two councilors involved never filed a formal
complaint, because they understood it was the administrative aide who
might ultimately be penalized, and not Mr. Kinsall, who was clearly way
out of line.
schools Superintendent Christopher Clouet later acknowledged the e-mail
But now it's
happened again in North Stonington, and this time
residents Ron Lewis and Robert Miner pursued the matter by filing a
request under the state's Freedom of Information Act to obtain copies
of all of the political e-mails sent to or from the school address.
Reportedly there were more than 300 of them, many sent during the
school day, and a few from Mr. Robert, the school board chair, and
fellow board member William Briscoe.
Mr. Robert has
apologized, but that is not enough. As an elected
official, he should know better than to share his political views on
school-district-issued e-mail. It is no different than if he had sent
out his missives on Board of Education stationery.
And what about
the teacher politicking on her students' time? Even if
the e-mails were sent on her lunch break, she has no business using
school property to disseminate political views.
It's also an
injustice to parents whose e-mail addresses were provided
to the school for school-related business. They didn't anticipate, nor
should expect, to get political messages.
E-mail has been
around long enough now for people to understand that it
is a quick and efficient way to communicate. But municipal employees
have to know it is inappropriate to use e-mail for political purposes.
request taxes schools' resources
By Andrew Shaw,
Public Schools officials say a recent parent request for the release of
public documents under the Freedom of Information Act has created a
burden on staff that will cost the district thousands of dollars and
thousands of hours of work.
of Schools Betty Sternberg gave a progress report to the Board of
Education at Thursday's regular work session. The FOI request by
Marianna Cohen seeks to retrieve all e-mails sent and received by seven
of the top district administrators, including Sternberg, from Sept. 6,
2006, through March 15.
attended the meeting, specifically is seeking any e-mails regarding
Parkway School, Glenville School and the board's task force on racial
imbalance, space use and declining enrollment.
"It will take,
really, a tremendous amount of dollars and effort," Sternberg said.
Jan Gunnip, the
director of technology, told the board that she has two staff members
working two hours a day each, essentially pulling them off duty from
helping teachers. The staff has collected 10 weeks worth of e-mails so
far in about a week and a half, she informed the board.
for us to do that," she said.
request was made March 16, with additional requests and a prioritized
list also given to school officials. The FOI act states that any public
agency is required to provide all records on file upon request, with
some exceptions, such as information like personal health or student
former state Commissioner of Education, said she has never seen an FOI
request of such breadth and depth from one person. Sternberg said she
does not take issue with fulfilling the request, which the district is
legally obligated to do, but she said she's concerned students'
education will suffer as a result of staff members being pulled away
from their regular duties.
a diversion of resources," Sternberg said.
not want to guess the reason behind making the request, although she
does not predict it is a preliminary step for a lawsuit. She said the
content that Cohen will be given does not contain any secrets.
"I have nothing
to hide," Sternberg said.
She told the
board that additional staff support may be required in the form of a
temporary worker at a cost of $27 an hour. Legal fees also will be
applied. The costs must be absorbed by the district. The person
requesting documents only is required to pay for the cost of printing
advised the administration not to put the request too high on the
there is no definitive deadline to comply with a request, as long as
the agency can prove they are working on fulfilling it in a timely
manner, according to Tom Hennick, a state FOI public education officer.
"If a person
makes a big request, the trade-off is you're not going to make it
tomorrow," Hennick said. The district should make it clear that it is
handling the request as best as possible, he said.
The law only
stipulates the agency must give "prompt access" of the records.
"Promptness is truly in the eyes of the beholder," Hennick said.
Bill Kelly advised Sternberg to keep education the priority when
budgeting for time.
"We don't have
to comply as quickly as we're doing it," Kelly said.
backcountry resident who has children at the elementary and middle
school levels, could not be reached for comment yesterday. When asked
before Thursday's meeting if she knew of the FOI request, she denied
knowledge of it.
public statements, Cohen, who has attended virtually all of the task
force meetings, has spoken out in support of postponing the Glenville
renovation until the board can address racial imbalance and declining
enrollment. She also has accused school officials of "cooking the
outcome" of the task force.
Cohen has requested be available first is correspondence from and to
Sternberg, Parkway School principal Paula Bleakley, director of human
resources Ellen Flanagan, and assistant superintendent for business
services Sue Wallerstein. Cohen has asked that all of the information
be given to her by May 3.
Chairwoman Colleen Giambo said the request needs to be fulfilled, but
there will be a cost. "There's a lot of competing demands," she said.
"Our priorities are the business of education."
The FOI Law Is The Law: Norwich councilors
conduct public business on the phone without the public.
By Day Staff Writer
Published on 3/12/2007
Facing a bitter dispute between Mayor Ben Lathrop and
a departing City Manager Robert Zarnetske, members of the Norwich City
Council have maneuvered themselves into violating the state's
right-to-know law. What the councilors and mayor did is repeated in
many cities and towns, but it's still going against the state Freedom
of Information Act, and it's not right.
The councilors and mayor got on the phone and basically had a secret
meeting about what they would do to hire a successor for the city
manager, who had announced he was resigning because of insurmountable
differences with Mayor Lathrop.
The problem is that too many public officials consider such phone chats
as a privilege. They don't get it that the electronic conversations
amount to a meeting of elected public officials without city residents
having any idea that the meeting is taking place or that the councilors
are conducting public business over the phone.
The phone meetings, without any public notice, are every bit as
egregious as though the councilors had all gotten together at a Norwich
bar or restaurant to talk about city business without the public's
knowing what they were doing. Or even knowing that they were meeting.
The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to make sure that the
public gets fair warning of the meetings of municipal agencies before
the events take place. The purpose is clear: to give citizens the
opportunity to attend the meetings, hear the information and ask
questions. Finding out after the fact that a meeting took place is no
But we sometimes need to act quickly, officials assert. In its wisdom,
the FOI Act does provide for emergency meetings of city boards and
agencies, but also requires that notices of those meetings be posted in
advance and that minutes of such meetings be made public within 72
hours of the meeting.
In the Norwich case, one can argue persuasively that the councilors did
not have to have an emergency meeting. But if they did, they could have
posted a notice in the city clerk's office.
The problem is that public officials all too often find the
requirements of the FOI Act to be cumbersome, inconvenient and
annoying. Too bad. Democracy can be messy business.
The reason that former Gov. Ella T. Grasso threw her considerable
political support behind the passage of a state FOI law in the first
place is that too many town and city officials were holding secret
meetings that pre-empted participation by the public. Too much was
happening in smoke-filled rooms — without notice, without reason and
without the public.
Thanks to Gov. Grasso and a handful of determined newspaper editors,
Connecticut has a progressive law that advocates the rights of the
public to government information and meetings.
The Norwich councilors may find the law inconvenient, but it is the
law. In the future, they should pledge to obey it.
Pearlman's Service; Director of state agency a sterling advocate
for the public's right to know what government is doing.
The Freedom of
Information Act is the vehicle that allows all
Connecticut citizens to find out what their local and state governments
are doing. It is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society, so the
work of the state commission that administers the legislation is one of
the most important in state government.
month, Mitchell W. Pearlman will retire as director of the
state Freedom of Information Commission. Since the state established
the commission in 1975, Mr. Pearlman has been the leader of this state
agency that protects the public's right to know. He has done a splendid
mid-1970s, a group of newspaper editors persuaded Gov. Ella T.
Grasso that too much of what happened in state and local governments
took place behind closed doors or without official record. That was
wrong, they said. The people of Connecticut had a right to know
virtually everything that their governments did.
agreed and supported legislation establishing the FOI
Commission. The bill passed and the organization went to work to make
government more accountable to the public.
As a result,
the people of Connecticut now have access to virtually all
government meetings except when agencies are discussing matters
exempted from disclosure. And those exemptions are extremely limited.
has made his job a balancing act. That is to say, the
commission he headed has heard thousands of appeals about potential FOI
Act violations and judged them with an objectivity that has been
superior. On the other side, as an advocate for openness in government,
Mr. Pearlman has been passionate, persistent and patient — passionate
in advocating for open government, persistent in tackling recalcitrant
opponents and patient in seeking additional amendments improving the
He and his
staff have traveled throughout the state to explain to local
officials and the public the intricacies of the FOI Act and their
rights and responsibilities contained in the legislation.
judiciary, in the state departments, in local and state
police matters and in many other activities, the presence of the
Connecticut FOI Act has improved state and local government. Mr.
Pearlman has been the ringmaster and conductor of that experience, and
he has used the power judiciously.
One of the
myths that he helped to dispel is the notion that the
Freedom of Information Act was designed to make it easier for nosy
newspaper, radio and TV editors and reporters to snoop into the
business of government. Rather, the FOI Act confirms the rights of all
the people of Connecticut, he has explained. In fact, more than 75
percent of the cases brought to the FOI Commission come from members of
the overall public and not from media plaintiffs.
At home, Mr.
Pearlman played a key role in establishing the Connecticut
Foundation for Open Government, a foundation that involves media
editors, businessmen and women, educators, lawyers and others
interested in promoting free speech and open government. The foundation
raises money to enhance educational programs and other activities that
promote open and good government.
Pearlman has traveled to many other states to advocate for
strong Freedom of Information laws. He also has spread the gospel of
open government in countries scattered around the globe — to China,
Morocco, Slovakia, South Africa, Mexico and other places.
He is truly the
people's friend, and his absence from the Freedom of
Information Commission is a major loss to the state.
access to papers
Susan Haigh, Associated Press
-- A state commission yesterday
ruled Gov. John G. Rowland's lawyers can see documents that were
to the legislative panel investigating the governor by a contractor who
is also cooperating with federal investigators. The Freedom of
Commission voted 3-0 yesterday, with one commissioner abstaining, to
the governor's lawyers.
is doubtful the House Select Committee
of Inquiry will turn over the documents to Rowland and the public for
The panel will seek an immediate stay today and file an appeal in
Court, the committee co-chairmen said. That court challenge could
take longer to conclude than the committee's investigation into
10-member panel plans to release
its documents once it releases its recommendation to the House of
on Rowland's possible impeachment.
certainly hope that an appeal will
take longer than the committee will take to finish its business," said
state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, the committee co-chairman.
Rowland's lawyers were denied access
to documents and statements from Kurt Claywell, a state contractor who
said he gave the governor thousands of dollars in Cuban cigars and
to speed up payments to his electrical company. Claywell has said
he will testify before the committee.
of the inquiry committee say
releasing the documents could jeopardize continuing investigations.
lawyers have said he should have access under Connecticut's open
laws to information being relied on by the panel. Committee
argue they need to keep documents from the investigation secret to
the probe and encourage reluctant witnesses to turn over needed
Last week, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would keep
documents private until after the inquiry committee finishes its
Rowland has said he would not veto or sign the bill, allowing it to
become law at 12:01 a.m. today.
Quinn Cobb, an assistant attorney
general representing the committee, urged the FOI commission to wait
after the bill becomes law to consider the governor's complaint. She
it was clear the legislature wanted to keep the documents private until
after the panel completed its work. But FOI Commissioner Andrew
O'Keefe, who issued a preliminary ruling Monday siding with the
lawyers, said the commission should only consider what the law was at
time of Rowland's request to see the documents.
was an entitlement to the governor
to those records at that time," said O'Keefe, adding the inquiry
is a public agency and should abide by state FOI laws.
Mitchell Pearlman, executive director
of the FOI commission, also sided with Rowland's lawyers. He said
until today or a week from today would not change what the law was when
Rowland sought the records and was denied access. State Rep. John
Wayne Fox, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the inquiry committee, said he was
disappointed with the ruling and
suggested the commission was upset by the recent legislation that will
keep tens of thousands of documents private until after the inquiry
finishes its work. Under the bill, only documents entered into evidence
will be available immediately to the public and media.
commission from Day One was unhappy
with the proposal and this was their way of circumventing it," Fox said.
still untrained in information laws
By Natasha Lee,
December 24 2006
Nearly nine months after the city agreed to train fire commissioners
about open-records laws, it has yet to uphold its end of the bargain.
The deal was
reached in April, after The Advocate filed a complaint with the state
over the Fire Commission's failure to file meeting agendas, meeting
minutes and members' votes as required under the state's Freedom of
Information Act. The act protects citizens' rights to access
information from public agencies.
legal department, which agreed to make sure the commission adhered to
open-records laws, said miscommunication between the department and
commission has stalled the training.
assumed the fire department was going to arrange that (the training)
because they are the ones who were supposed to go," said the city's
director of legal affairs, Thomas Cassone.
There is no
deadline for the training, but without it, the city and Fire Commission
are not in compliance with the settlement. The Fire Commission also
continues to violate the Freedom of Information Act by failing to file
proper, detailed agendas.
Mike Toma said he contacted the state's Freedom of Information
Commission and the Fire Department's clerk Wednesday to arrange a
training date within the next couple of months.
came after The Advocate filed complaints with the state commission over
a lack of meeting minutes and agendas supposed to be filed by the Fire
The Freedom of
Information Act requires that minutes of public meetings be made
available to the public within seven days.
investigation into the fire department's hiring practices beginning
last year, The Advocate attempted to review agendas and minutes, after
learning that friends and relatives of commissioners and firefighters
were named next in line for job openings over other candidates who
scored higher on the firefighters exam. Mayor Dannel Malloy's nephew,
fire chief Robert McGrath's son and the son of Fire Commissioner E.
Gaynor Brennan were among the candidates in line for jobs.
Top scorers not
hired told The Advocate they thought the process was fixed because they
were asked few questions during brief interviews by the fire
Advocate tried to obtain records of the meeting minutes and how
commissioners voted for applicants, none of the documents was available
at the city clerk's office or fire department offices. The Freedom of
Information Act requires that records of how each commissioner votes on
an issue be made public within 48 hours.
has since changed its hiring policy to require members to score
applicants' oral interviews on a scale of 1 to 10, with each
commissioner's assessment kept on file and available to the public
should applicants question why they were not hired.
settlement, the city's legal department acknowledged the commission
failed to keep and file proper records as required by law. As part of
the settlement, the legal department also agreed to review the agendas
and meetings of the city's 23 boards and commissions twice a year. In
turn, The Advocate agreed to drop two pending complaints regarding the
Fire Commission before the Freedom of Information Commission.
his staff has started reviewing agendas and minutes, checking to make
sure they are detailed, and for any "glaring mistakes." The review will
be filed with the mayor's office by the Jan. 1 deadline. The second
review deadline is July 1.
Board of Representatives and Board of Finance members are given
guidebooks that reference Freedom of Information laws, as well as
procedures and guidelines for running meetings, preparing agendas and
filing minutes. Commissioners, whose positions are either approved or
appointed, typically rely on more experienced members to share
commission guidelines, Cassone said.
"People who are
volunteers are prone to make mistakes, and it's our responsibility to
guide them when we see them. And certainly if The Advocate, or anybody,
points out noncompliance of the Freedom of Information laws, we'll
advise them," he said.
department routinely offers Freedom of Information workshops for newly
elected or appointed officials, Cassone said.
Police panel shirks laws to hold meeting
By Zach Lowe,
December 12 2006
STAMFORD - The
Police Commission barred the public from a special meeting Saturday to
discuss undisclosed personnel issues and switched the site of the
meeting at the last minute.
occurred after city officials accused the police union of orchestrating
a nine-day sickout that apparently ended Friday. The union has
denied organizing the sickout, which would be a violation of state
labor law and the union's contract with the city.
reporter went to 73 Ocean Drive West in the Shippan section of Stamford
- the home of Police Commission Chairman Mark Denham - at 12:30 p.m.
Saturday to attend the meeting, but no one answered the door and no one
appeared to be home. No lights were on, and no cars were in the
It is unusual
for the commission to meet on a weekend or at a member's home. Most
meetings are held Monday evenings at police headquarters. When
the reporter called police headquarters Saturday seeking the site of
the meeting, the man who answered said neither he nor the desk sergeant
on duty knew about a Police Commission meeting that day.
The meeting was
held at police headquarters, Denham said. The commission moved the
meeting because he was out of town and could not host it, Denham said.
He participated by telephone. City and Town Clerk Donna Loglisci
said her office never received notice of the meeting, as required by
the state Freedom of Information Act.
not say what was discussed at the 12:30 p.m. meeting, which lasted
until 2:10 p.m. He said nearly the entire meeting was held in executive
session, meaning the public could not attend.
Merenda, president of the police union, said the commissioners would
not let him attend because they were in executive session. Merenda said
the commissioners told him they went into executive session to discuss
They did not
elaborate, he said.
may go into executive session to discuss personnel issues only if the
matter involves a specific employee or employees, according to state
Freedom of Information laws. The employee or employees must agree to
have the meeting held in executive session.
yesterday the commission discussed general personnel issues, not cases
involving specific employees.
"I guess we
made a mistake then," Denham said when informed of the rules for
executive session. "It was my understanding we could go into executive
session for personnel issues whenever we wanted."
yesterday that her office did not receive notice of a Saturday police
commission meeting. Special meetings, such as the one held Saturday,
are required by law to be posted with the town clerk at least 24 hours
in advance. The notice must state the time and place of the meeting and
the business scheduled to be discussed.
There also is
no record of a Saturday meeting on the Police Commission's page on the
city's Web site, www.cityofstamford.org.
matters" were the only issues to be discussed, according to an agenda
for the meeting sent to The Advocate. Under state law, boards and
commissions are supposed to specify what they plan to discuss.
Malloy wrote to the chairmen of dozens of city boards and commissions
in January reminding them of their obligation to file agendas with the
city clerk and take minutes at all meetings. The Police Commission -
which had not filed any records with the clerk's office for two years -
then filed records dating to 2004. At the time, the Fire Commission was
being scrutinized for lax record-keeping of its meetings.
Under the state
Freedom of Information Act, records of votes must be made public within
48 hours, and minutes of meetings must be available for public
inspection within seven days.
Malloy said boards and commissioners commonly overuse executive
sessions because members, who are volunteers, don't know the rules.
"I think if you
ask most people, they think you can talk about personnel issues in
executive sessions, when in fact personnel issues alone is not
sufficient reason," the mayor said at the time. "Even when they are
going into executive session, the public should know what they are
discussing in executive session."
vote to go into executive session.
Steakhouse meetings improper
By Kevin McCallum, Stamford ADVOCATE
November 23, 2003
STAMFORD -- The police and fire pension
boards have routinely violated state Freedom of Information laws by
what are supposed to be open public meetings in private rooms of pricey
steakhouses, according to state FOI officials.
for both pension boards
say their meetings at such places as Bennett's and Morton's steakhouses
are not open to the public because sensitive medical information and
strategy are discussed. City and state officials say that's
is no special provision for
pension boards not noticing meetings, not being public, not having
things like that," said Tom Hennick, public education officer for the
Freedom of Information Commission. The city has four independent
pension boards. The certified and custodian boards hold open meetings
the Government Center. They also send copies of their
agendas and meeting minutes to the
city clerk's office, where they can be reviewed by the public.
police and fire pension boards don't file agendas or minutes or open
meetings to the public.
of Finance member Joseph Tarzia
said the very location of the meetings makes them "secret."
is the public going to go to
a place where it costs you $100 to eat?" he said. Police Lt.
Cronin and Assistant Fire Chief Peter Brown said they don't believe
respective boards are required to hold open meetings. Cronin stressed
sensitivity of medical information reviewed during discussions of
if (the public) did come, the
best part of the meeting would be in executive session," Cronin
Cronin, who has been on a board for 12 years, denied a request by The
to attend a meeting. He also denied a request to review meeting
citing the medical information that might be contained in the documents.
review of the board's agendas for
the past three years showed 35 meals at Bennett's, two at Morton's and
three at other restaurants. The fund's financial adviser picks up the
for the meals, Cronin said. Brown, who has been on the fire
board for 20 years, said it has received legal advice in the past
the board that its meetings did not have to be open to the public.
Rosenberg, an attorney for
the city, said the pension boards are independent and it is not the Law
Department's role to advise them. But Mayor Dannel Malloy, who
on the board of the largest pension fund, for classified employees, had
some advice for the police and fire boards.
far as I'm concerned, they are
public bodies and someone should file a Freedom of Information
Malloy said. "They should be required to file their agendas and their
. . . just like everyone else." Tarzia said the boards should not
only be hauled before the FOI commission, but other agencies also
investigate their spending habits.
bottom line is whose interest
are they watching out for -- the pensioners or themselves?" he
FOI Covers E-Mail, Voice Mail
EMAIL AND VOICEMAIL DECLARATORY RULING
March 21, 2003 editorial, Hartford
the state Freedom of Information
Act took effect 28 years ago, few could have predicted the degree to
government business would one day be conducted by electronic means.
using computer e-mails and telephone
voice mails, officials can, in effect, skirt state FOI requirements
public access to records and meetings.
an important draft ruling, the
FOI Commission recently concluded that e-mails and voice mails are
records; that they must be retained; and that the public should be able
to see copies of such records. The draft also says that such
could constitute a "meeting" under state law.
are obvious obstacles involving
cost and technology to fulfill those requirements, but the principle is
sound. Government business must be conducted in public and people
not be excluded from the decision-making process. The FOI
offers an example in which three selectmen exchange e-mails and voice
about a proposed legal settlement. Under the FOI draft, these
would be public records. However, the draft says the exchange also
violate the law's open meeting requirements if the public was excluded.
copies of e-mails about government
business should not be difficult. Storing voice mail records could be
but still possible. It seems unlikely that any agency will try to
conduct official business exclusively by e-mail or voice mail. But with
the rapid development of new electronic forms of communication, the
for abuse escalate. For example, the draft notes that a quorum of a
agency's members could log into a computer "chat" room to discuss
business without informing the public.
FOI Commission is on the right
track. People ought to have access to government records, even when the
information is contained in e-mails and voice mails. And official
should not be conducted out of public view.