F.O.I. back on the WEB!
Stamford Boards and Commissions still don't
E-MAIL, Voicemail Proposed Declaratory
Ruling...NOW ALL WATCHDOGS MERGED IN 2011
OP-ED | Restore Public
Accountability Over Law Enforcement Agencies
by Mitchell Pearlman | May 11, 2015 7:44am
Last year, the Connecticut Supreme Court overturned some 20 years
of Freedom of Information law when it concluded that police
departments need only disclose a bare minimum of arrest
information (name, address, date, time and charges) pending
prosecution. This ruling applies even if other arrest information
is not exempt from public disclosure. The Supreme Court majority
itself, however, recognized that its tortured reading of the law
is in need of legislative clarification.
House Bill 6750 is now wending its way through the General
Assembly. The bill was introduced to reestablish the law that
existed prior to the unfortunate Supreme Court decision. The bill
passed through the legislative committee dealing with Freedom of
Information in good fashion. It was then sent to the Judiciary
Committee where, at the urging of the Chief State’s Attorney, it
was amended to negate the original intent of the bill and, in
essence, would codify into law the Supreme Court’s ruling.
As one who has been working in the field of government
transparency and accountability for over 40 years, I am not
exaggerating one iota when I say that failure to enact House Bill
6750 as originally proposed will be one of the final nails in the
coffin of open government in Connecticut. Ironically, Connecticut
had been considered one of the enlightened pillars of good
government, but unfortunately, of late it has earned a reputation
as one that tolerates corruption and governmental misconduct. This
is a stain on the entire state and an embarrassment to all of us
who call Connecticut home...story in full: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/op-ed_restore_public_accountability_over_law_enforcement_agencies/
Amendment to Arrest
Records Bill Catches Transparency Advocates Off Guard
by Elizabeth Regan | May 1, 2015 10:30am
head of the state’s Freedom of Information Commission was
among those surprised to learn that a bill that would make
arrest information available to the public was amended Monday
by the Judiciary Committee.
Colleen Murphy, executive director of the Freedom of
Information Commission, said the following day that she was
unaware of an amendment that narrowed the scope of information
a police department would have to give the public regarding an
arrest. She said she was having trouble obtaining a copy of
the amendment, which state Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, said
was “written on the fly.”
The amendment was still not available on the legislature’s
website four days later on Friday afternoon.
Murphy said she thought the committee was going to approve the
same bill as the General Administration and Elections
Committee, and in the meantime she would negotiate a final
product with Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane. Murphy and
Kane have been trying to find the right balance between the
public’s right to know and prosecutorial and privacy concerns.
Kane said Thursday that the move does not mean negotiations
are over between his office and the Freedom of Information
Commission...story in full: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/amendment_to_arrest_records_bill_catches_transparency_advocates_off/
F.O.I.A. explained by Thomas
Hennick, Public Education Officer, explains and does Q&A, in
Town Hall. Town Attorney, Police , Town Employees, Board/Commission
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (2013 rev.) STILL HELP KEEP
GOVERNMENT OPEN TO THE PUBLIC? YOU BET IT DOES!
FORMER FIRST SELECTMAN ON HAND APRIL 20, 2015! AS IS LWV
OF WESTON CONVENER.
is on the Commission? Seven people. And some
basic info on the 40 years this compromise, unanimous, first in
the country F.O.I.A. does or more likely, doesn't do - this is
only for public meetings (what they are, how to conduct them and
report on them), not other things such as ethics, etc. But
Mr. Hennick did offer some help there, too!
Is there a summary that is "pocket sized" available any
more? Is the previous "pocket-sized" document still valid?/Yes, and
here it is online version!
How has the law, FOIA, changed, and has it changed for the
"better" making government more open, since it began (CT was ahead
of its time, we think we remember that, post-Watergate)?/Yes, CT
and Ella Grasso had the first FOIA after Watergate - here is a "matrix"
for summarizing the law as regards meeting notice rules.
Attendance from P&Z, Conservation, Historic District, Library
Board, Assessment Appeals, Finance, Government Access Channel 79,
Police Commission, Commission on Aging and press.
Question about subcommittees and reviewing bids. All in all,
a very interesting and informative presentation and useful
It took a year so far...
Stonington releases some heavily redacted Habarek texts
By Joe Wojtas
Published February 19. 2015 4:00AM
Stonington - One year after The Day filed a Freedom of Information
request, the town has released a heavily redacted transcript of
the approximately 11,600 text messages that then-First Selectman
Ed Haberek sent and received from his town-issued BlackBerry from
January through August 2012.
Town Attorney Thomas Londregan said the town blacked out all but
518 of the messages because they are not public records under
state law but Haberek's private communications. He pointed to a
state law that defines public records as "relating to the conduct
of the public's business." The law also allows the redaction of
some public records involving labor and property negotiation,
personnel matters and security issues...
The 2010 town policy for phones and computers in effect for 2011
and 2012 states that "e-mail and Internet access is provided for
Town of Stonington business use only." The policy does not address
text messaging specifically as that medium had not yet become as
pervasive a means of communication as it is today.
The policy states that use of email and the Internet "for informal
and/or personal purposes is permissible only within reasonable
All email and Internet records are considered town records and
"those who have personal confidential matters to communicate
should, to assure privacy, not use Town computers or equipment,
including fax machines," according to the policy.
"Additionally, Town of Stonington e-mail, Internet records are
subject to disclosure to law enforcement or government officials
or to other third parties through subpoena or other processes,"
states the policy. "Consequently, you should always ensure that
the business information contained in these messages is accurate,
appropriate and lawful."
Story in full:
Story in full:
Use of social media in
police protection and law enforcement:
Greenwich boards prepare minutes to
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 ago.
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
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
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:
FOI Advocate: Malloy Administration Should Push Charter Group On
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
"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 Information law."
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 recent years.
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
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
"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
"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 should, too.
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 highest standards."
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
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 like cronyism."
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 not released.
Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant
How the CT Legislature works: Or
alternative...or back again? Or
the Legislature supported by the State
Task Force Bill Swings Back Towards Openness
| Mar 24, 2014 6:30pm
Administration and Elections Committee stripped restrictions on
access to 911 recordings from a bill before voting on the
leaned heavily in favor of public access when it adopted new
on a bill that sought to find compromise between open government
crime victims’ privacy.
The bill had
been written to create a special class of public records, which
public could inspect but not copy. The language placed the burden
releasing those records on the person requesting the documents. A
force that proposed the recommendations in the bill called for
recordings of 911 emergency calls and pictures depicting the
homicide victims be included in this class of records.
removed language regarding 911 recordings from the bill, meaning
public will retain access to them. They preserved the
look-but-don’t-copy policy for pictures depicting homicide victims
flipped the burden of proof so it falls on the government to
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
people who want to repeal what we did last year. There are people
don’t want to change anything. We’ve tried addressing these
the new language of the bill by leaving the 911 recordings where
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
last year, when lawmakers acted on the final day of session, and
without a public hearing, to create special exemptions in the
Freedom of Information Act to protect the privacy of the family
of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. That action
a task force to inform legislation during this year’s session.
worked for months on a report that many on the panel called a
compromise. However, open government advocates and Senate
Donald Williams have opposed it saying it will reduce transparency
the criminal justice system. At a hearing earlier this month,
called the bill “counterproductive” and “destructive.”
But in the
adopted Monday, advocates of victim privacy feel the legislation
swung too far in the other direction.
substitute language, I’d rather they just spike this completely
this doesn’t give us anything,” State Victim Advocate Garvin
said outside the committee meeting.
photos depicting homicide victims has been completely barred under
law passed last year. Ambrose, who served on the task force, said
group’s privacy advocates allowed them to be inspected as part of
compromise that also involved including 911 tapes in the same
is gone completely. If we knew that compromise was going to be
there’s no way that I ever would have voted on putting the photos
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
its own similar bill.
23, 2014 OP-ED FROM CTNEWSJUNKIE HERE
Task Force Wants Copying
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
public disclosure would have recommended making it a felony to
certain law enforcement records without permission.
That language was softened by the time the panel approved its
report during Friday’s meeting. The report reaffirms
approved by the group last month that would change the way the
accesses some law enforcement records.
The policies endorsed by a majority of the task force would permit
member of the public to view certain law enforcement records
to homicides, but would place the burden of justifying the public
release of those documents on the member of the public.
government agencies had the burden of explaining why they did not
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
communications describing their bodies. The group also approved a
recommendation that the legislature passes a law making it a crime
copy these records without permission.
But according to Colleen Murphy, director of the Freedom of
Commission, an early draft of the report included language that
have made that crime a Class D felony. Murphy said the group never
approved such language and it was removed from subsequent drafts
report. But Murphy and FOI advocate Jim Smith reacted to the
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
On the other hand, if public officials refuse to comply with an
from the Freedom of Information Commission, they are only subject
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
provision “lunacy” and an “outrageous step — a first for FOI
“The FOI statutes could use tougher fines against those officials
violate the law. Perhaps we should change the law to include
convictions and prison sentences for officials who break FOI law
refusing to release public information,” he said.
The final report only recommends that the legislature make taking
copying the records without permission “a crime” and does not
a specific classification. During Friday’s meeting, Murphy and
contested whether the task force voted on that provision during
hectic December meeting. Both said they did not recall even
However, most of the the task force disagreed and put the question
rest Friday by rejecting an amendment by Murphy and Smith which
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,
Smith and Murphy opposing the document. Susan Storey, the state’s
public defender, voted in favor of approving the report but
that if legislation is drafted based on its recommendations she
oppose the bill.
“I think the report is an accurate reflection of what happened in
room, but it is not my intention to support the recommendations,”
said. “. . . I think that curtailing the free flow of information
injurious to the justice system.”
Don DeCesare, one of the panel’s two chairman and the manager of
radio stations, said the report would not have been what he
personally, but represents compromise.
“I think we did in fact achieve the balance we were asked to find
my guess is that if each of the 17 of us were asked to write this,
wouldn’t have come out exactly as it did. That’s probably a good
that indeed, it’s pretty much right,” he said.
Conn. town officials call cops to
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
public records request.
Citizen reporters Isaac Avilucea and Gayla Cawley say officials
them to leave Bethlehem Town Hall on Thursday. State police showed
and took statements, but didn't arrest anyone.
Citizen reports ( http://bit.ly/1i53zjk ) that town officials
to immediately respond to the reporters' request under state law
information about the Public Works Department and missing
the reporters decided to stay in Town Hall until someone responded
Selectman Lenny Assard says he didn't think officials were
immediately produce the documents and asked the reporters to put
request in writing, which they did.
from: The Register Citizen, http://www.registercitizen.com
© 2014 The
Orders Release of 911 Tapes
| Nov 26, 2013 4:04pm
the 911 calls made during the Sandy Hook Elementary School
will be released by Dec. 4 under a Tuesday decision by a Superior
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
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
Sedensky until Dec. 4 to appeal the ruling. Sedensky is reviewing
decision and will determine his next course of action by that
according to a statement from the state Division of Criminal
month, Prescott concluded he could not rule on the case until he
listened to the recordings. The tapes were made available to the
on Monday as sealed evidence. After reviewing
recordings, Prescott said they did not meet the requirements for
exemptions that would prevent their disclosure under the state
of Information Act. ..full
commission orders release of Newtown 911 tapes
Prosecutor to appeal decision
MELIA Associated Press
Sep 26, 2013
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
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
Sedensky III, said the commission's decision will be appealed in
could shed light on the law enforcement response to one of the
school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty-six people, including 20
first-graders, were killed inside the school on Dec. 14 by the
Adam Lanza, who committed suicide as police arrived.
that the calls should be exempt from public information laws
they contain information that could be used in a law enforcement
action. But the chairman of the commission, Owen Eagan, said
did not make clear in his previous testimony how the information
be used or how its release could damage an investigation in which
arrests are anticipated.
reviewed the tapes," Eagan said, reminding Sedensky of his
raised other arguments against releasing the tapes, saying they
subject witnesses to harassment from conspiracy theorists and
survivors from the school who deserve special protection as
"This is a
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
the shooting, the AP requested documents, including copies of 911
calls, as it does routinely in news gathering, in part to examine
police response to the massacre that sent officers from multiple
agencies racing to the school. If the recordings are released, the
would review the content and determine what, if any, of it would
the news cooperative's standards for publication.
police department denied the AP's request, citing legal exemptions
allow the government to withhold documents if they're being used
ongoing investigation and should remain secret. The AP appealed to
before FOI hearing officer Kathleen Ross on June 3, Newtown's
chief said a search for the records was not conducted until three
before his appearance at the FOI commission hearing. Although 911
are typically released, Sedensky directed Newtown police not to
over the recordings while the inquiry was underway.
earlier this month to a hearing officer who recommended the
be released, Sedensky said criminals could benefit by the release
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
law enforcement knows before law enforcement knows the
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
if those records constitute "an unwarranted invasion" on the
the surviving family members. It also created a one-year
the release of certain portions of audiotape and other recordings
with the exception of 911 tapes - in which the condition of a
victim is described.
More on this...from
Bill Drafted In Secret Would Block
Of Some Newtown Massacre Records
EDMUND H. MAHONY and DAVE ALTIMARI, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:18 PM EDT, May 21, 2013
The staffs of the state's top prosecutor and the governor's office
been working in secret with General Assembly leaders on
withhold records related to the police investigation into the Dec.
Newtown elementary school massacre — including victims' photos,
of 911 calls, and possibly more.
behind-the-scenes legislative effort came to light Tuesday when
Courant obtained a copy of an email by a top assistant to Chief
Attorney Kevin Kane, Timothy J. Sugrue. Sugrue, an assistant
attorney, discussed options considered so far, including blocking
release of statements "made by a minor."
complete agreement regarding photos etc., and audio tapes,
act may allow the disclosure of audio transcripts," Sugrue wrote
Kane, two other Kane subordinates and to Danbury State's Attorney
Stephen Sedensky, who is directing the investigation of the
being crafted has not been handled under routine legislative
— it hasn't gone through the committee process, which includes a
hearing, for example. Sugrue's email Tuesday indicated that a
the bill was being worked on by leaders in both the House and
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
in the form of a special act. ..." Sugrue wrote that Wagner "will
me the draft in confidence when she receives it, and I will
Tuesday, the legislation proposed by Kane wasn't ready to be acted
in either legislative chamber, said Malloy's director of
communications, Andrew Doba. He said he did not know when that
"A lot of
people, including our office, have heard the concerns expressed by
families of Newtown victims, and are exploring ways to respect the
families' right to privacy while also respecting the public's
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
to the Newtown case, or to documents from other criminal cases
now subject to public disclosure. A report on the police
into the Newtown shooting is expected to be released in June.
by Kane, the bill wouldn't be limited to the Newtown file.
legislation to protect crime scene photographs protecting victims
certain 911 tapes," Kane told The Courant Tuesday. "It is
that I have been concerned about for years and years and the
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
subject to be published."
He said as
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
of that category. And it seems to me that the intrusion of the
of the individuals outweighs any public interest in seeing these."
his email that the "forthcoming" language would be "in the form of
special act, not an amendment to the [state's Freedom of
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
of such a blanket change. She said a couple of weeks ago the
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey provided her agency with a draft
including the blanket exception. She said she was advised that
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
detailed updates. Asked if she would have liked to have been kept
of developments such as Sugrue's email, she said yes.
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
pain. One example is a bill that would exempt the death
minors from public disclosure for six months.
On Dec. 14,
Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home
drove to the school, where he used a semiautomatic rifle in the
massacre. He then killed himself. Most investigative records have
to be released concerning Lanza, including any psychological
legislation ends up blocking the release of victims' photos and
of 911 calls — on which Sugrue said "there is complete agreement"
wouldn't be a significant departure from normal procedures with
to photos, but would be a major departure with regard to tapes of
As a matter
long practice, Connecticut police departments do not release
photos of victims. These only emerge in public when placed in
during criminal trials, and when they do they generally are not
published in newspapers or on television.
the media and the Internet and all the bloggers," Kane said. "If
stuff is FOI-able. ... You've seen these pictures, which are
introduced as exhibits in court at a trial. The print media
certainly doesn't print those. And normally the TV doesn't. But
case rose to a whole different level. Subject to FOI, any
of the public can get them."
911 tapes, on the other hand, are routinely released by police
FOI laws in Connecticut and across the country. Law enforcement
officials have refused to release the 911 call tapes in the
case so far. Those tapes were released after other recent major
including the 2010 Hartford Distributors shootings in Manchester.
such tapes are often used by the news media or lawyers to evaluate
police response to emergencies.
on Tuesday discussed, in vague terms, potential "consent"
under which victims' family members apparently would have say over
information might be withheld or released. He mentioned a proposal
"allow the written consent of one immediate next of kin" – to
accommodate one parent's "desire to obtain records that relate to
son." But, he added, that might be unfair to "the other families
member thereof gives the consent."
Tuesday was the question of which government officials would
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
access to government information just gets grimmer by the month.
few exceptions, lawmakers and other state officials are trying
best to make it harder for us to take a look at what they’re up
the desire for more secrecy vary, but they range from a genuine
for less transparency, to saving money, to pure emotion in the
a tragedy. But almost all these measures have one thing in common:
they’re bad ideas whose implementation would protect the well
at the expense of the people.
week by The Courant’s Jon Lender reveals a disturbing pattern.
pieces of legislation are pending in the General Assembly that
withhold the home addresses of certain state employees, bar access
records of those seeking pardons, and force taxpayers to pay a fee
simply for the privilege of viewing a police report.
One of the
troubling is a bill sponsored by Newtown Republican state Rep.
Bolinsky, who proposed a one-paragraph bill that would restrict
access to the death certificates of minors until six months after
death. Why? Because Bolinsky got a call from the town clerk, who
uncomfortable sharing death certificates with reporters only three
after 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook
As should be
obvious to everyone, perhaps the worst time to change the law is
emotions get the best of our public officials. Harken back to two
ago when then-Sen. Edith Prague, a principled and longtime
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
Cheshire. So the urge to proceed on emotion should be resisted
firmly. A couple of mass murders rightly stimulate discussion on
control but they should not be cause for restricting public access
Police, always likely suspects in the battle over public
have outdone themselves. They’ve asked lawmakers to approve a bill
would impose a $16 fee on anyone who wants access to a police
No, that’s not a copying charge, which would be reasonable, but a
for just looking at a report in a viewing room. We all know what
effect of that would be. Fewer citizens asking for police reports
therefore, fewer people checking in to see what the police are up
Gov. Dannel Malloy is proposing to put most of the staff of three
autonomous watchdog agencies under a single entity supervised by
governor’s office. That means the state offices of Ethics,
Enforcement and Freedom of Information would effectively lose
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
wrong reasons. After all, the GA has its own FOI issues and what
of legislature wants to give the executive branch more power?
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,
when it should be public. But when a cop breaks up a bank robbery
saves a life, the police department quickly issues a detailed
release extolling the virtues of the brave officer and his heroic
of ignorance or arrogance, municipal boards and commissions
adjourn to executive session for the flimsiest of reasons. I once
covered a Board of Finance meeting in Salisbury in which a board
— an attorney, no less — suggested going behind closed doors to
an agenda item because it involved “potential litigation.” Such a
makes a mockery of freedom of information law and could be used as
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
of information on the controversial economic assistance the state
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
Lender, too often their reaction to the release of information is
question why the public needs to know when they should be asking
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
Dec 31, 2013
— Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has named a new executive administrator of
Connecticut's Office of Government Accountability, a collection of
regulatory offices, including the Office of State Ethics and
of East Hartford, currently the associate director of employee
relations at the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher
will take on the new job. She replaces David Guay, who was
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
your government is doing, then the mess at the Office of
Accountability should be cause for alarm. At best, they’re
with an octopus. At worst, the essential independence of our state
watchdog agencies will be crippled. It’s nearly laughable if it
such a shame.
and the legislature created this superagency in 2011 in the name
efficiency. The nine agencies include the State Elections
Commission, the Office of State Ethics, and the Freedom of
chose David Guay to be the “executive administrator,” of the
superagency. Mr. Guay, who prefers to be the boss rather than
the administrator, is refusing to meet with the directors of the
agencies that comprise the Government Accountability Commission,
has the power to fire him. He maintains the commission doesn’t
power to evaluate his performance, and the governor’s chief
appears to back him up on that.
fire him at this time, the commission prefers to “identify areas
need improvement and resolve them.” He is commended in some areas
his work in the first year of this cobbled-together agency, but he
evaluated critically in key areas of management.
“It is of
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
What we have
here is a failure to communicate.
of the watchdog agencies, staff cuts at the FOIC have led to piled
cases and delays in getting hearings or taking appeals to the
courts. The people’s right to know is slowing to a crawl.
A year ago
Guay, who makes $118,000 a year, tried to change the rules and
that he report directly to the governor, rather than to the
Accountability Commission. “Giving the GAC the authority to
and possibly terminate a governor’s appointee appears to be
inconsistent with the appointment of other gubernatorial
he said at the time.
He also said
the commission that, “I’ll report to whoever I need to report to.
don’t fear an evaluation. In fact I welcome the evaluation. 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
fact, according to the draft of his evaluation, he doesn’t even
talking to the agency directors: “Regular communications by [Guay]
the division heads have not been established. It is unusual for
visit any of the division offices or to meet with the division
one-on-one. This failure on the part of [Guay] to engage in
communication regularly is a primary concern.”
elections and FOI agencies were created independent for a reason.
you are controlled by the chief executive of the state, how can
hold him or her accountable? Mr. Guay doesn’t seem to grasp that
selfish efforts to try to report directly to the governor puts the
agencies under the governor’s thumb, no matter who is governor.
the proverbial fox in the henhouse.
legal counsel Andrew McDonald told The Hartford Courant that
interpretation of the law that created his job “seems to be a very
plausible reading of the statute in its simplest terms. The
constrains the commission’s activities to two very discrete
holding meetings to either recommend job candidates for
or to fire that administrator.
If the GAC
wants to “undertake activities that are not included in the
they might get “an opinion from the attorney general that allows
to,” McDonald suggested.
state attorney general’s office has issued opinions backing what
generally called the “greater power/lesser power” rule—the express
grant of power includes implied powers that are necessary or
to exercise the express power—“a bit of common sense that has been
recognized in virtually every legal code from time memorial,”
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
without any due process accorded to him. He must come to his
do the job he was hired to do. He must stop trying to undermine
independence of the agencies he is charged with serving. If he
persists, let him return to the state Board of Accountancy where
as director for 22 years.
H. Smith, a retired newspaper editor, is the President of the
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information.
ARTICLE - THE REST HAD TO DO WITH POSSIBLE ETHICS VIOLATIONS
Rev. Moales; It’s called the Freedom of Information Act and it
applies to you…
Jun 21, 2012
Bridgeport’s illegally appointed Board of Education held a meeting
its Ad Hoc Budget Committee to hear from part-time superintendent
schools, Paul Vallas, about his plans to over-ride local support
pull Bridgeport’s successful alternative high school program out
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
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
point that Connecticut law requires that the members of a public
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
that failure to follow the agenda would be a violation of
Freedom of Information Act, Moalas was reported to have said “I
that Rev. Moales served as Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign treasurer
last year’s mayoral campaign, one would expect that he would
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
staff would do well to provide Rev. Moales with a copy of the law
they could simply print off the following:
1-225. (Formerly Sec. 1-21). Meetings of government
agencies to be public. Recording of votes. Schedule
agenda of meetings…
of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be available
the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours
the meetings to which they refer…Upon the affirmative vote of
two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting,
subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be
considered and acted upon at such meetings.” [This means
members can only discuss the items on the agenda unless, by a
two-thirds vote the members move to open the agenda and add
items. The reason this law exists is that the public has a
fundamental right to know, at least 24 hours in advance, what
public servants will be discussing.]
Bridgeport’s illegal Board of Education should specifically note
each special meeting of every public agency…shall be posted not
than twenty-four hours before the meeting to which such notice
The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting
the business to be transacted. No other business shall be
considered at such meetings by such public agency. “[This means
the meeting in question is a “special meeting” then the agenda
be modified in any way.] NOT THE COMPLETE BLOG POST
Change of plans. Meetings creating
evaluations will be public.
Thomas, CT MIRROR
May 23, 2012
numerous meetings behind closed doors to finalize details
on how teachers and principals will be graded, the State
Education has said the public and the media can attend the
from now on.
different at this meeting. At this meeting -- in the
interest of transparency -- the state department has invited the
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
place without public notice and that 10 more closed sessions had
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'
test results in teacher evaluations.
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
The next public meeting had not been scheduled until June 21, nine
before the panel's June 30 deadline. The state Board of Education
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
public, including one the previous day.
always were public," said Lori Rossomando, the leader of
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
here," she said.
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
these sessions can proceed with the candor necessary for
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
for May 29 and June 5 and 12...(More to this story, but the FOI
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
teacher and principal evaluation system, the state
Education has closed its meetings on the topic to the public
Instead, a series of private "working group" meetings is
take place in the weeks before the panel's June 30 deadline
to create a
model process on evaluation under the new education reform
next public meeting is not until June 21, nine days before
the panel is
required to finish their work. The state Board of Education
to sign off on the evaluations shortly after that.
Asked if these "working group" meetings will be open to the
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor last week referred all
a State Department of Education spokesman, who declined to
notification of these meetings nor copies of its minutes.
At its first public meeting in three months, members of the
Evaluation Advisory Council last week butted heads on how
students' standardized test results should have when their
The council had planned to reconvene Monday to begin to hash
out a list
of issues raised during the meeting, including the
issue and how many times teachers should be observed during
The education department cancelled Monday's meeting,
scheduled 10 private "working group" meetings instead,
this morning on principal evaluations. The other groups set
to meet in
closed sessions this week include Implementation, Teacher
Pupil Services and Observation.
An education department spokesman failed to respond to
requests for time, date and location of upcoming meetings.
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
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
of a multimember public agency" both the Freedom of
Commission and state courts say the presence of a quorum
essential for a meeting to have occurred.
In an August 1989 decision involving the East Hartford
Medical Services Commission, the state Appellate Court
upheld the FOI
Commission's finding that a subcommittee of the commission
illegally even though it involved less than a quorum of the
"The plain language of General Statutes...[is that it] does
a quorum as a necessary precondition to any hearing or other
of a public agency," the appellate court wrote in its
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
This is not the first round of closed "working group"
Department of Education has conducted in recent months. At
public meeting last week, each working group leader gave
on decisions that already had been made.
The Mirror's requests for notification of these meetings and
have gone unanswered. Neither did the education department
Secretary of the State's Office of these meetings, as is
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
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
agreement with everyone in the world looking on," the West
"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
themselves in conformance... They need to follow the law or
come to us
and seek an exception."
reform consultant hiring
p.m., Friday, April 27, 2012
head of a nonprofit consumer watchdog on Friday filed a
complaint charging that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Education
Commissioner Stefan Pryor violated state law in the hiring of
reform consultants in January.
executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, asked
state's auditors of Public Accounts to investigate Pryor and
use of a little-known agency, the State Education Resource Center,
avoid state contracting rules in hiring two consultants for
Andrew J. McDonald, Malloy's legal counsel, said Friday the charge
against the governor is "reckless" and "devoid of any evidence."
one of the two state auditors, said Friday that state rules
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,
of which he was given under the state's Freedom of Information
some of which were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers,
Education First Inc., of Seattle, and Leeds Global Partners, of
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
were paid by SERC. In addition, Pryor, who took his job last fall,
recently that SERC was used to expedite development of the
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
SERC have not returned several calls for comment.
education consultant, DSA Capital, of New Jersey, helped review
credentials of Education First and Leeds before they were
the e-mails indicate.
auditors to review DSA Capital's role as well. Hearst Connecticut
Newspapers reported this week that DSA Capital was paid by a
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
to write state law to hire more consultants," Swan said. "That
procedure can't be good."
Swan said he
wanted the contracts terminated and the consultants banned from
in Connecticut for five years.
who broke the law to be held accountable," Swan said. "They are
cronies of the commissioner." He contests Pryor's claim that SERC
nonprofit exempt from state bidding requirements, but rather is
as a direct agent for the state and isn't registered as a
contracts, which expired in March, are found to be improper, he
know what kind of relief would be available.
our office has received a whistleblower complaint with regard to
contracts involving the Department of Education, the State
Resource Center, Leeds Global Partners, Education First and DSA
Capital," Ward said Friday.
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
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
sit down with auditors and Swan "tomorrow" to review the issues,
support his claims, or apologize to the governor.
"This is one
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
he'd better be prepared to put some substance behind these thin
Bill to allow public boards
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
Elections Committee, which originally raised the bill and
public hearing on the measure, suspended the latter and may
reschedule it in the face of objections from right-to-know
"I am not committed to going forward with a public hearing
said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the
committee. "There are very limited things you can go into
session for right now and we're always cautious about
The measure, which originally was slated for a public
hearing on March
12, and later was considered to be heard next week, had been
the request of Attorney General George Jepsen's office,
comment late Wednesday afternoon. But it quickly drew
from the state Freedom of Information Commission, as well as
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. The latter is
coalition of nearly three dozen newspapers, television and
stations and other news media organizations.
"There's already too much secrecy in state and local
we're trying to prevent more," said CCFOI President Jim
veteran Connecticut newspaper editor who retired last year
editor of the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald.
Smith said his group fears the bill would open the door to
abuse of closed-door talks by public agencies. "They could
executive session and discuss anything and no one would
know," he said.
At issue is a 26-year-old statute enacted to clarify when
agencies can meet in private with legal counsel. The
right-to-know law has long allowed for private discussions
topics, such as pending litigation, contract negotiations
personnel matters. But after a state Supreme Court
new questions about closed sessions, the legislature acted
in 1986 to
ensure that public agencies could not exclude the public
discussions simply because legal counsel was involved.
legislators said closed-door discussions specifically must
to a written document -- such as a legal opinion prepared by
In other words, public officials simply looking to pose
on sensitive topics to their lawyers could do so -- but only
"We have this great (statutory) language that essentially
lawyer represents the public agency, but the agency
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
about the bill. I think it would bring us back to (before)
that would be locking the doors too quickly on public
Mitchell W. Pearlman, who served as the FOI Commission's
director for 28 years through 2005, testified in 1986 that
legislative fix, a government entity could meet privately
reason it wanted to if it did so with an attorney under the
using the attorney/client privilege as it applies in
The GAE committee faces a March 30 deadline for acting on
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
of voter lists and other omnibus public registries.
passed 120-11 and now heads to the Senate, would allow public
to release major voter and property databases without the arduous
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
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
are dealing with now," said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield,
co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections
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
the motor vehicle registration lists that communities use to
property tax bills.
ruling, legislators said it became clear that the statute also
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
no way to do so and be certain that the law -- as interpreted by
courts -- wouldn't be violated.
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
figure out who to redact," she said. "We feel we would face
under this ruling."
adopted Thursday identifies three major classes of records that
released, in full, to the public starting June 1:
registration lists, logs of absentee ballot applications and
related election information.
municipal grand lists, the databases that detail assessed values
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
argued this offers very little protection.
detective can find out where anybody lives within 48 hours" with
to land, tax and voting records, said Rep. Steve Mikutel,
"How much we are really accomplishing with this law is debatable."
me great pause," added Rep. Pamela Z. Sawyer, R-Bolton, who argued
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
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
decried the decision of leaders in the Democratic-controlled House
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
change in the FOI law -- via an emergency certified bill without a
public hearing," said vanDeHoef, who also lobbies for the
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
other particular public database.
begged by town clerks, other municipal officials, the secretary of
state, real estate attorneys, title searchers and banks to fix
immediately," he said, adding that when it became clear there was
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
year is a problem.
vanDeHoef's groups were supporting a bill offered by Gov. Dannel
Malloy, a measure that was raised at a public hearing this week
the legislature's Planning and Development Committee.
bill would have returned the FOI law to its pre-1999 status when
came to protected public employees, keeping only those workers'
personnel records confidential.
spokesman, Andrew Doba, said Thursday that while the House bill
in a different direction than the governor's legislation, the bill
executive director of the state Freedom of Information Commission,
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,
approach in this bill is not very clean," she said. "I understand
the legislature is trying to do, but the whole thing is somewhat
convoluted," she said. "Perhaps a more comprehensive look should
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
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
representative's allegations that eight members of the
leadership violated the Freedom of Information Act by
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
"At the hearing, the hearing officer indicated on the
record that he
believed that those actions constituted a proceeding of
board," Perpetua wrote in his finding, dated Feb. 2.
review of the relevant case law, the hearing officer's
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
Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leader Harry Day to
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
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
Commission will consider the grievance and Perpetua's
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
Stamford residents, who deserve openness and
transparency in their city
Gabriele and his lawyer had claimed the board leadership
comprises the president, clerk, and six majority and
-- acted as a committee of the 40-member board when it
signed and sent
a letter to former Director of Legal Michael Larobina
Since the board's leadership did not conduct this
activity in a public
setting, Gabriele alleged they were in violation of the
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
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
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
Gabriele said the statement is "good news for Stamford
But Perpetua ultimately disagreed with the root of
complaint, which asserted that the leadership's decision
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
not subject to FOI laws.
"The leadership members did not conduct business that
have been conducted by the respondent board as a whole,
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
president's letter ... did not constitute a proceeding
The letter in question was written by Skigen and sent to
questioning his decision to pay former Board of Finance
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
qualified, independent outside legal counsel," Skigen
wrote. "I believe
the conclusion reached to provide counsel to Mr. Tarzia
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
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
Monday in a Freedom of Information complaint lodged against
of Representatives, the outcome of which could have
effects within city government.
Gabriele and his Fairfield-based lawyer, Joe Sargent,
the state Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford
for a hearing on Gabriele's complaint, which alleged eight
the board's leadership violated the Freedom of Information
discussing, signing and sending a letter related to city
without holding a public meeting. Board of
Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leaders Harry Day and Mary
attended the hearing, where they were represented by
Commission hearing officer Victor Perpetua disagreed with
defense, which asserted the letter in question was not a
proceeding and the board's eight-member leadership did not
government body subject to FOI laws. Perpetua did not
on the complaint and denied a request from Skigen and Day to
"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,"
said. "They didn't do it in their personal capacities.
"I'm also going to rule, just sitting here now, that the
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
recommend a remedy for consideration by the full commission.
Gabriele's complaint could effectively halt a longstanding
Board of Representatives' leadership to meet in private,
forums with each other and the mayor. Gabriele, who
has four FOI
complaints pending against the city, said he was not looking
commission to issue a monetary fine against the board.
"I would like for the entire Board of Representatives to
of Information Act) courses," he said after the hearing.
leadership of the Board of Representatives cannot have
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
in order to influence his decision, and that if he changes
his mind he
will reopen the complaint for a full hearing involving
testimony. He said he does not know when the commission will
his recommendation on the complaint. Skigen could not
comment Monday afternoon. Day and Fedeli declined to
Gabriele's complaint, dated Sept. 15, stemmed from an Aug.
from Skigen to former Director of Legal Affairs Michael
questioning his decision to pay former Board of Finance
Tarzia's legal fees for three civil lawsuits filed against
him by city
employees. Board Clerk Annie Summerville also signed the
the board's six majority and minority leaders authorized
assistant Valerie Pankosky to sign their names as well.
"Before asking taxpayers to foot the bill for this action, I
encourage you to seek either a court ruling or an opinion
qualified, independent outside legal counsel," Skigen wrote.
the conclusion reached to provide counsel to Mr. Tarzia at
expense is incorrect and should be reconsidered."
Tarzia, a longtime finance board member who resigned in
fighting several ethics complaints, was served with three
lawsuits over the summer. The actions, lodged by Director of
Ernie Orgera, Fleet Manager Michael Scacco and former Human
Generalist Tania Barnes, allege Tarzia improperly sued them
2010 without probable cause.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Tarzia, Larobina said the city would
independent counsel for the former finance board chairman
reserving the right to recover the cost of Tarzia's legal
the courts rule against him. In the Aug. 15 letter, Skigen
board's leadership asked Larobina to seek a second legal
court ruling on whether the city was liable for Tarzia's
"If either a court or outside counsel determines that Mr.
entitled to legal representation at the taxpayers' expense,
encourage you to seek an additional appropriation for such
we do not believe that your budget for this year anticipated
for outside counsel of this situation," the letter said.
Sargent said the reference to an additional appropriation
included to influence Larobina into seeking outside counsel
matter. The Board of Finance and Board of Representatives
power to approve or deny additional funding requests from
departments, including Legal Affairs.
"This letter was taken with such gravity that it forced
counsel to file a lawsuit for declaratory judgment," Sargent
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
"The leadership are individuals and they cannot act formally
of the board," Toma said. "That letter was a letter from
making a case to corporation counsel that his decision
reconsidered. We would disagree that there was a proceeding
Perpetua said he felt the Board of Representatives does
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
Toma unsuccessfully requested Skigen and Day be allowed to
"They have grave concerns that the import of some of the
that you've made may make it very difficult for a 40-member
operate if there are certain limitations on leadership to
things," he said. "I've been told that leadership
regularly on administrative issues like that. They frankly
troubling that there could be a reading of the (Freedom of
Act) that would require leadership to meet in an open
Perpetua denied the request to testify by saying he did not
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
Elections Committee called Friday afternoon for the
watchdog panel to reconsider its plans to name former
Sebastian Giuliano as its new executive director.
Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, and Sen. Gayle
D-Milford, told the State Elections Enforcement
Commission by letter
that Giuliano does not meet the basic qualification
commissioners: that he be at least three years removed
Giuliano, a Republican, served three terms as
through 2011. He lost his bid for a fourth term last
by Democrat Dan Drew. The commission announced Thursday
that it planned
to name Giuliano to the executive director's post at a
"I strongly believe the SEEC must first and foremost be
watchdog of Connecticut's elections policies, procedures
without even a hint of partisanship, and a chief elected
any party and any municipality, who served in office and
re-election as recently as this nominee, compromises
that desire for
irrefutable nonpartisanship," Slossberg said.
"Individual SEEC commissioners must be removed from
for three full years before they are eligible to serve;
I think the
same standard should be applied to the agency's staff
well," she said.
"There is no place for partisan politics at Elections
Morin said. "In essence, the commissioners are naming an
director whose feet are still tired from walking the
This is a job that rises above party politics -- even
hint of partisanship would contaminate Election
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
anonymity so as not to jeopardize his current job. One
was the chief operating officer of a municipality. The
fourth had no
Stephen F. Cashman, the chairman of the commission, said
review the letter, but the call for being clear of
for three years is not required of the director.
"All I can indicate is that requirement was neither in
description, which was posted by DAS, nor is it part of
associated with the appointment of the executive
said. "It seems they are asking us to impose a condition
that has not
DAS is the Department of Administrative Services, which
Giuliano could not be reached.
In addition to saying that Giluliano too recently was an
partisan, Slossberg and Morin also drew a parallel
situation and state ethics standards.
The legislators noted that ethics rules guard against
more than just
outright conflicts of interest, but also caution against
of a conflict. The executive director of an agency that
enforces fair elections, including Connecticut's public
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
"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
appearance of even a smattering of partisanship,"
mayor to oversee elections enforcement
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
time, the state's elections watchdog agency has chosen a
an outsider to lead its operations, tapping Sebastian N. Giuliano,
Republican fresh off a losing re-election campaign for mayor of
Elections Enforcement Commission named Giuliano on Thursday to
its new executive director and general counsel, giving the agency
first director with a partisan past and experience as a candidate.
also would be the first director in decades who was not a career
served six years as Middletown's chief executive until losing his
for a fourth term in November to Democrat Dan Drew, who was
backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Giuliano succeeds Albert P.
retired in November.
"In light of
the challenges we face in the area of public campaign financing
agency consolidation issues, I have every confidence that
Giuliano possesses the knowledge and experience to lead the
commission," said Stephen F. Cashman, the commission's chairman.
believe he is the right guy for the job."
Giuliano stood out in a crowded field of candidates, but he may
overcome some skepticism among Democratic proponents of public
financing in the legislature.
public financiing program was opposed by most Republicans,
the former party chairman who ran Giuliano's first successful
for mayor, Chris Healy.
described Giuliano as a committed and dynamic leader with more
years of experience practicing law in Connecticut. A 1975 graduate
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
-- within the new state Office of Governmental Accountability.
merger, the commission also has been challenged by deep budget
reduced funding for the public financing program for state
million has been removed from the Citizens' Election Fund over the
three years to close budget gaps. The fund's main source of
its share of proceeds from the sale of abandoned properties, was
43 percent this fiscal year. Malloy and the legislature also cut
one-third of the staffing for the commission in the current
if the commission has adequate staff to process applications for
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
served the commission for 14 years prior to that as deputy
assistant general counsel.
Jeffrey B. Garfield, who had been executive director for 30 years
his retirement in 2009.
spared as Malloy nails down budget cuts
Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
Malloy's administration already has secured one-fifth of this
savings called for in the union concession deal--and apparently
be trying to take any more funding from Connecticut's three chief
Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes reported Tuesday
$135 million was withheld from agencies' budget allotments for
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
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
package in mid-August.
which is projected to save $700 million in this fiscal year, left
administration with a huge savings target to keep the budget in
administration orders "holdbacks," or reductions each quarter in
allotments, as various programmatic cuts and other savings are
year the process is even more critical than in most," Barnes said.
the savings behind that figure is relatively easy to achieve--such
$138 million from a wage freeze--the administration concedes that
others will take considerable effort. These include $170 million
total to come from three labor-management panels charged with
cost-saving ideas in technology, health care and across state
government in general.
the $700 million target, this year's budget also includes a $112
million general savings target not tied to the concession
that the administration also must achieve to keep finances in
administration relied heavily on cost-saving ideas identified
this summer by department heads when it appeared that concessions
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
prison guard supervisors refused to accept the wage freeze, and
cut 56 jobs from the former and 21 from the latter.
One of the
single-largest savings involves $5.8 million from the planned
of the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield.
saves more than $2.4 million by reducing hours of operation in
state buildings, ordering cutbacks in maintenance and security,
administration had drawn criticism earlier this summer when it
layoffs of non-union personnel at the state's three chief watchdog
agencies, and also refused to allow vacant, budgeted positions to
filled--all while union concessions were in jeopardy.
watchdog groups, along with six others, were merged by the
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
payroll, affirmative action and administration and business
but reserved each individual division's control over "budgetary
and concerning the employment of necessary staff to carry out the
concessions were granted, Barnes' office did not immediately agree
allow restoration of these posts, but rather invited the watchdogs
appeal for their return.
complicating matters, watchdog leaders and with some lawmakers
that seven years ago, at the height of the scandal that drove
Gov. John G. Rowland from office, the legislature legally
Connecticut's FOIC, ethics and elections enforcement from any
cuts after the budget had been adopted, arguing this was essential
keep government open and honest.
these agencies were permitted to use budgeted funds to fill
the spirit of that law--and possibly the letter of it as
violated, critics argued.
we will," allow these three agencies to fill those vacant,
positions, Barnes said. "Obviously they have statutory protections
respect to their budgets that are unusual."
positions include communications and technology managers at
enforcement, an ethics program manager at the Office of State
and the second-ranking post at FOIC, the managing director and
associate general counsel's job.
Enforcement Commission also raised concerns recently when Albert
Lenge, its executive director since October 2009, announced he
retire after Sept. 30.
already lost a high-ranking leadership post that oversees the
election system's public financing program during the
into the Office of Governmental Accountability.
division is to remain independent, then the absolutely have to
their own executive director appointed by the commission," Sen.
Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's
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
freeze posts in those three watchdog agencies, had been a critic
merger plan adopted this past spring.
originally sought a more extreme consolidation plan, which called
one homogenous government watchdog agency performing multiple
with a director appointed by the governor. Lawmakers instead opted
directing nine watchdog entities to share administrative resources
while otherwise preserving their autonomy.
are pretty clear about the autonomy of those commissions," Barnes
Tuesday, adding that he expected the administration would not
to block elections officials from filling the vacancy after Lenge
retires. "We'll follow the statute."
ACLU questions use of 'cell phone
a.m., Thursday, August 4, 2011
cities across the state, plus the Connecticut State
Police, were the targets Wednesday of an effort to gauge the
that law enforcement may be using cellphone locations to invade
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
first efforts at protecting digital privacy.
Information Act requests were sent to the state police and
local police departments of Danbury, Waterbury, New Haven,
New London and Berlin in what could be the start of a multiyear
to determine whether privacy rights have been violated.
Berlin, where a warrantless federal tracking campaign occurred in
the cities were selected geographically.
whether law enforcement officials show probable cause
and obtain warrants from judges before obtaining cellphone
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
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
Chief Alan Baker confirmed the ACLU request made under the state's
Freedom of Information Act.
the request and like all FOI requests, it has been
referred to corporation counsel for review," Baker said. "We
it will take between 30 and 45 days to comply, which is standard.
an emerging area of the law, and I don't know how much
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
utilizes cellphone data. "We might use cellphone records depending
the investigation and what's required," Vance said. "We use
records and sometimes it's helpful in criminal investigations. We
use cellphone information for anything more than criminal
investigations. We can and do obtain search warrants as required.
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
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
southern suburb of Hartford, he said.
much the same as the government walking into private
homes on a fishing expedition, without a warrant, and searching
premises," McGuire said. "And technology has made it a whole lot
easier. These people were subjected to an unconstitutional search
never even knew it. If any law enforcement agencies in the state
carrying out similar intrusions, the public should know about it."
that more than 375 requests in 31 states were made by 34
ACLU affiliates to delve into the secret use of mobile
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
staff attorney for the national ACLU Speech, Privacy and
Project, in a statement. "A detailed history of someone's
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
cell phones," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the
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
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
living in Connecticut, where our Freedom of Information Commission
actually has some teeth.
In New York,
I was barred unlawfully from a meeting or denied access
to public records, all I could really do was either file an FOI
for the materials or call the estimable Bob Freeman, who still
the state’s Committee on Open Government. I could get a quote or
from Freeman about the injustice of it all and then publish a
that effect. Of course, I could also file a lawsuit against the
municipality or school district, but that required time and
my tiny newspaper company simply did not have.
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,
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
troopers. Police told Peruta he would have to pay a $16
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
or scanned. Just for the privilege of eyeballing the reports,
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,
the FOIC will rule on at its Aug. 10 meeting, that acknowledged
police have the statutory authority to charge a reasonable fee to
clerical work associated with FOI requests. But the decision said
cops should make accident and investigative reports available for
simple viewing to the public free-of-charge. Bravo. Since there
costs associated with Peruta’s request, the inspection fee was
but an expensive roadblock designed to dissuade the curious from
a peek at how the state police do business.
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
home addresses on municipal documents of certain state employees.
reason for the exemption, as the court and the General Assembly
is that the availability of those addresses might subject
such as police and corrections officials to harassment or danger.
According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, another bill pending in
General Assembly is more explicit. It would, “without exception,
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
prison guards) to a dozen:
includes every Judicial Branch employee, federal and
state judges, all employees of the Department of Children and
and employees of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction
who provide direct patient care. The exempted addresses also
any lawyer who has been a public defender, or a social worker in
president of the Connecticut Foundation For Open Government,
told me that the state’s FOI laws “always start out strong but
year folks chisel away at them. In this case, the exceptions
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
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
supposed to peruse thousands of documents and track property
down to determine where they work — all without compensation from
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
phone conversation this week. “It could affect every office in
hall and require lots of extra hours. It would be impossible to
every property owner’s occupation.”
the matter of hiding the addresses during public
proceedings. How, Claude Albert of the Connecticut Counsel on
of Information asked the Law Tribune, could an applicant from one
the protected classes make his case for a property improvement
planning and zoning commission without disclosing the address of
relatively easy to own property without disclosing your
true identity on town records. At minimal expense, any property
can form a limited liability corporation (LLC) and list the name
corporation as the owner. Or a property owner can designate a
or attorney who would be listed in the assessor’s records instead
the owner himself.
the Law Tribune, the General Assembly’s Judiciary
Committee “declined to vote the proposed bill out of committee
past session in light of the controversy and the then-pending
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.
consider thinning the ranks of the protected classes. After all,
kind of risk is there in listing the home address of a custodian
truly a national leader in freedom-of-information law,”
not if we allow that law to be unduly weakened by the
enemies of openness.
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 --
who referred to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to merge nine
groups "a disaster" is one of five finalists to head the unified
of Governmental Accountability.
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
scheduled to be interviewed later Friday by the division heads
the new Office of Governmental Accountability. That panel must
recommend at least three finalists by the end of business Monday
Malloy, but can submit more. The governor must appoint a director
that pool of candidates.
division heads began public interviews Friday, with more scheduled
Monday. According to panel's personnel search committee report,
group is looking primarily from within Connecticut government for
director to oversee business and administrative functions.
happening, I thought it would be unfair for me to collect a
Pearlman, a Glastonbury lawyer, said, adding that the only benefit
would accept is coverage against on-the-job injuries under
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
this organization needs a double-dipper" who receives a salary as
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
the FOIC with eight other watchdog panels. That merger would
the independence the agency needs to evaluate right-to-know
among all of state and municipal government in Connecticut. he
legislature backed Malloy and merged nine watchdog agencies when
adopted the $20.14 billion state budget for the fiscal year that
FOIC, the new Office of Governmental Accountability also includes:
Office of State Ethics; the State Elections Enforcement
Office of the Victim Advocate; the Office of the Child Advocate;
Judicial Selection Commission and Review Council; the State
Standards Board; and the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners.
requires the nine divisions to share personnel, payroll,
action and administration and business functions. But the budget
legislation reserves each individual division's control over
issues and concerning the employment of necessary staff to carry
the statutory duties."
has served as a lecturer in journalism and law at the University
Connecticut since retiring from the FOIC, was one of three
interviewed Friday. "This is the first time I've been on this side
the table in 40 years," he joked.
with the notion: Do no harm to the substantive missions of the
agencies," Pearlman said in describing the philosophy he would
the job. "I will try to mediate disagreements. I don't think I'm
boss." That job, he said, belongs to the nine division heads.
"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
he said, adding he is applying only because he wants to mitigate
damage the merger could do to the respective missions of the
agencies. "I really don't want the job.
legislature and Malloy "overdid it" with the merger, the former
chief said he believes some cost-saving efficiencies can be found.
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
J. Purcaro of Ellington, chief administrative officer for the
Department of Public Health since 2009.
also served for 10 years before that as an associate budget
with the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, said
of her goals would be to keep the governor's budget office "out of
kitchen," arguing the administration is exercising considerable
over watchdog agency finances. "I don't like it."
The head of
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
of Government Accountability, objected to Malloy's naming of an
executive director of the new OGA to help determine how a $1.61
budget cut will be apportioned among OGA's nine divisions.
statute only allows the governor to appoint an acting director "If
Governmental Accountability Commission has not submitted such list
the governor on or before August 1, 2011."
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
to help coordinate how the spending cut would be apportioned among
"I know that
this is a difficult change for a lot of people," Purcaro said
his interview Friday, adding the merger nonetheless is the law and
it would be his role as director to ensure all divisions cooperate
meet budgetary deadlines and cost-cutting benchmarks.
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
of Bridgeport, who served as Department of Motor Vehicles
from 1993 to 1995 and as deputy commissioner of Transportation
1991 to 1993 under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Hadley
worked as a real estate development consultant for the last 11
From 2004 to 2009 she also worked for the city of Bridgeport,
director of the Office of Planning and Development and later as
project manager for the city housing authority.
Compromise sought on
15, 2009 7:17 AM EDT
it was approved last year, a law requiring Connecticut
to quickly post their meeting minutes online was hailed by
as significantly boosting public access to information.
In the five
months since it went into effect, however, several small towns
suspended their Web sites instead and others are considering it,
saying they lack the technology or money to comply with the new
rules. Now, several compromises are being considered at the
General Assembly to balance the law’s original intent with the
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
could be a new challenge,” said state Rep. James Spallone,
“Maybe with a little time to figure out how to do it, the towns
find that it’s easier than they initially thought it would be.”
went into effect Oct. 1, requires municipalities to post agendas
their Web sites at least 24 hours before all public meetings and
minutes within a week afterward. Several town leaders,
in small communities, complained to their legislators that they
part-time or volunteer Webmasters. Others said complying with the
would mean paying more to contractors for the extra work, equating
an unfunded state mandate.
comply could result in complaints to the state Freedom of
Commission. At least nine towns have suspended their Web sites
October rather than risk facing an FOI complaint for violating the
rules. The legislature’s committee on government
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
explanation to state officials, and in the second year by stating
rationale to the FOI Commission. “Maybe the FOI Commission can
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
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
a surprise to many people in the towns, so what we want to do now
provide more opportunity for the towns to accomplish it, and for
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
to provide as much access to documents as possible for
But it can be difficult to do that when budgets are so tight and
fear of an FOI complaint is hanging over their heads, she
The Connecticut Council of Small Towns and Connecticut Conference
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
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
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
wrist or whatever.”
lawmakers have proposed more than a dozen bills on the topic in
current General Assembly session. Some would repeal last
law entirely. Others seek compromises to exempt smaller
ease the potential punishments for towns who try in good faith to
legislature’s government administration and elections committee
week endorsed the middle-ground proposal backed by Spallone and
It now heads to the Senate, and would go into effect immediately
full General Assembly approves it.
of Women Voters of Norwalk hosts FOI forum
By ROBERT KOCH,
learned details of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, and
an opportunity to ask questions, during an educational forum
The League of Women Voters of Norwalk at City Hall on Thursday
Tara Forschino, a Fox Run Elementary School PTO member, bore
resemblance to a recent FOI request filed by parents of special
children within the larger school district.
whether it be, say a teacher or law enforcement, and there are
background checks done," Forschino said. "If that information is
someone's file, and someone wants to evaluate just that specific
information out of someone's personnel file, where would that
public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of
Commission and guest speaker at the forum, had no simple answer
people looking for a blanket explanation.
matters on what's in there," Hennick said. "But if you go ask for
background check on a teacher you believe is doing something
that would sort of, in my mind, spill it toward a matter of public
concern and make sure it's released.
is a case-by-case basis," Hennick added.
people attended the FOI Act Education Forum at City Hall. The
two high-profile FOI requests in Norwalk. In one request,
initially labeled as overly broad and since settled, Ward B
sought "all sent and received information" regarding the municipal
parents of special needs children within the Norwalk public
system sought information about Stacy Lore, the executive director
Spectrum Kids, LLC. They want proof of Lore's professional
and evidence that the district verified those credentials before
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,
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
"We want you
take back the information (provided tonight)," Lauricella said.
think if you sharpen your pencils, it helps you hone in on what
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
should probably be freedom of access, because the Freedom of
Information (Act) ... allows you to watch your government in
Hennick said. "It's about transparency."
citizens have the right, with certain exceptions, to obtain
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
matter, a pending claim or litigation, a security matter, the
lease or purchase of a property, or a document or
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
ask you what you want it for," he said.
Hennick, the number of formal complaints filed with the FOI
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
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
FOI matter, but one that crosses the lines--is it ethics, FOI or
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
at town meetings.
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
five years earlier was similar but was rejected.
Prior to the
of Wednesday's ZBA meeting, an
executive session was held with First Selectman Gordon Joseloff
Westport Police Chief Al Fiore in attendance.
evaluating," said Joseloff in a
telephone interview yesterday morning when asked about the
"Briefly, we talked about what has been done and what procedures
in the future."
As it stands
there will be more of a police
presence at meetings in town -- especially at night. Uniformed
will be "popping in" during the course of Town Hall meetings but
present all of the time.
addition, a plainclothes officer is attending the series of six
hearings by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for the
Westport Weston Family Y's application for a new facility.
for comment, Fiore said, "I thought they [the board members]
things appropriately." He also suggested that people call the
there is a problem.
After the Feb.
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
prepared a memo for department heads and all chairmen of all
Since the memo
column, there has been a greater
police presence, according to Joseloff. Since the Adler incident
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
"when someone gets physically threatening."
were held prior to the Wednesday
evening executive session.
Also, there may
security cameras in the future.
The town might already be prepared on that front because meetings
Town Hall are recorded even if there isn't a live broadcast.
"We walked out
the Wednesday meeting feeling happy
Gordon [Joseloff] had addressed the issue," said Jim Ezzes, the
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
this blind rage and not knowing why."
At the meeting
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
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
relief of Ezzes and the other ZBA board members.
Stop School E-Mail
North Stonington have every right to be concerned that a
public school teacher used her work e-mail account to
public apology of Darren Robert, the Democratic
chairman of the town's Board of Education, a thorough
the alleged misuse of the e-mail system should be
employees should never, ever use public property for
North Stonington is jarringly similar to a situation
that occurred in New London last May. In the Whaling
Alvin G. Kinsall, the Democratic chairman of the Board
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
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
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
of all of the political e-mails sent to or from the
Reportedly there were more than 300 of them, many sent
school day, and a few from Mr. Robert, the school board
fellow board member William Briscoe.
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.
the teacher politicking on her students' time? Even if
the e-mails were sent on her lunch break, she has no
school property to disseminate political views.
injustice to parents whose e-mail addresses were
to the school for school-related business. They didn't
should expect, to get political messages.
around long enough now for people to understand that it
is a quick and efficient way to communicate. But
have to know it is inappropriate to use e-mail for
request taxes schools' resources
Public Schools officials say a recent parent request for the
public documents under the Freedom of Information Act has created
burden on staff that will cost the district thousands of dollars
thousands of hours of work.
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
of the top district administrators, including Sternberg, from
2006, through March 15.
attended the meeting, specifically is seeking any e-mails
Parkway School, Glenville School and the board's task force on
imbalance, space use and declining enrollment.
really, a tremendous amount of dollars and effort," Sternberg
director of technology, told the board that she has two staff
working two hours a day each, essentially pulling them off duty
helping teachers. The staff has collected 10 weeks worth of
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
list also given to school officials. The FOI act states that any
agency is required to provide all records on file upon request,
some exceptions, such as information like personal health or
former state Commissioner of Education, said she has never seen an
request of such breadth and depth from one person. Sternberg said
does not take issue with fulfilling the request, which the
legally obligated to do, but she said she's concerned students'
education will suffer as a result of staff members being pulled
from their regular duties.
a diversion of resources," Sternberg said.
not want to guess the reason behind making the request, although
does not predict it is a preliminary step for a lawsuit. She said
content that Cohen will be given does not contain any secrets.
to hide," Sternberg said.
She told the
board that additional staff support may be required in the form of
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
advised the administration not to put the request too high on the
there is no definitive deadline to comply with a request, as long
the agency can prove they are working on fulfilling it in a timely
manner, according to Tom Hennick, a state FOI public education
"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
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.
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
before Thursday's meeting if she knew of the FOI request, she
knowledge of it.
public statements, Cohen, who has attended virtually all of the
force meetings, has spoken out in support of postponing the
renovation until the board can address racial imbalance and
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
Sternberg, Parkway School principal Paula Bleakley, director of
resources Ellen Flanagan, and assistant superintendent for
services Sue Wallerstein. Cohen has asked that all of the
be given to her by May 3.
Chairwoman Colleen Giambo said the request needs to be fulfilled,
there will be a cost. "There's a lot of competing demands," she
"Our priorities are the business of education."
FOI Law Is The Law: Norwich councilors
conduct public business on the phone without the
By Day Staff
Published on 3/12/2007
Facing a bitter
dispute between Mayor Ben Lathrop and
a departing City Manager Robert Zarnetske, members of the
Council have maneuvered themselves into violating the
right-to-know law. What the councilors and mayor did is
many cities and towns, but it's still going against the
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
manager, who had announced he was resigning because of
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
amount to a meeting of elected public officials without
having any idea that the meeting is taking place or that
are conducting public business over the phone.
The phone meetings, without any public notice, are every
egregious as though the councilors had all gotten together
at a Norwich
bar or restaurant to talk about city business without the
knowing what they were doing. Or even knowing that they
The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to make
sure that the
public gets fair warning of the meetings of municipal
the events take place. The purpose is clear: to give
opportunity to attend the meetings, hear the information
questions. Finding out after the fact that a meeting took
place is no
But we sometimes need to act quickly, officials assert. In
the FOI Act does provide for emergency meetings of city
agencies, but also requires that notices of those meetings
be posted in
advance and that minutes of such meetings be made public
hours of the meeting.
In the Norwich case, one can argue persuasively that the
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
requirements of the FOI Act to be cumbersome, inconvenient
annoying. Too bad. Democracy can be messy business.
The reason that former Gov. Ella T. Grasso threw her
political support behind the passage of a state FOI law in
place is that too many town and city officials were
meetings that pre-empted participation by the public. Too
happening in smoke-filled rooms — without notice, without
without the public.
Thanks to Gov. Grasso and a handful of determined
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
for the public's right to know what government is doing.
Information Act is the vehicle that allows all
Connecticut citizens to find out what their local and state
are doing. It is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society,
work of the state commission that administers the legislation is
the most important in state government.
month, Mitchell W. Pearlman will retire as director of the
state Freedom of Information Commission. Since the state
the commission in 1975, Mr. Pearlman has been the leader of this
agency that protects the public's right to know. He has done a
mid-1970s, a group of newspaper editors persuaded Gov. Ella T.
Grasso that too much of what happened in state and local
took place behind closed doors or without official record. That
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
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
has made his job a balancing act. That is to say, the
commission he headed has heard thousands of appeals about
Act violations and judged them with an objectivity that has been
superior. On the other side, as an advocate for openness in
Mr. Pearlman has been passionate, persistent and patient —
in advocating for open government, persistent in tackling
opponents and patient in seeking additional amendments improving
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,
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
the people of Connecticut, he has explained. In fact, more than 75
percent of the cases brought to the FOI Commission come from
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
raises money to enhance educational programs and other activities
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
open government in countries scattered around the globe — to
Morocco, Slovakia, South Africa, Mexico and other places.
He is truly
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
to the legislative panel investigating the governor by a
is also cooperating with federal investigators. The
Commission voted 3-0 yesterday, with one commissioner
the governor's lawyers.
is doubtful the House Select Committee
of Inquiry will turn over the documents to Rowland and the
The panel will seek an immediate stay today and file an
Court, the committee co-chairmen said. That court
take longer to conclude than the committee's investigation
10-member panel plans to release
its documents once it releases its recommendation to the
on Rowland's possible impeachment.
certainly hope that an appeal will
take longer than the committee will take to finish its
state Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-Southbury, the committee
Rowland's lawyers were denied access
to documents and statements from Kurt Claywell, a state
said he gave the governor thousands of dollars in Cuban
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
lawyers have said he should have access under Connecticut's
laws to information being relied on by the panel.
argue they need to keep documents from the investigation
the probe and encourage reluctant witnesses to turn over
Last week, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that
documents private until after the inquiry committee finishes
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
after the bill becomes law to consider the governor's
it was clear the legislature wanted to keep the documents
after the panel completed its work. But FOI
O'Keefe, who issued a preliminary ruling Monday siding with
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
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
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
keep tens of thousands of documents private until after the
finishes its work. Under the bill, only documents entered
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
December 24 2006
Nearly nine months after the city agreed to train fire
about open-records laws, it has yet to uphold its end of the
The deal was
reached in April, after The Advocate filed a complaint with the
over the Fire Commission's failure to file meeting agendas,
minutes and members' votes as required under the state's Freedom
Information Act. The act protects citizens' rights to access
information from public agencies.
legal department, which agreed to make sure the commission adhered
open-records laws, said miscommunication between the department
commission has stalled the training.
assumed the fire department was going to arrange that (the
because they are the ones who were supposed to go," said the
director of legal affairs, Thomas Cassone.
There is no
deadline for the training, but without it, the city and Fire
are not in compliance with the settlement. The Fire Commission
continues to violate the Freedom of Information Act by failing to
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
a lack of meeting minutes and agendas supposed to be filed by the
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
last year, The Advocate attempted to review agendas and minutes,
learning that friends and relatives of commissioners and
were named next in line for job openings over other candidates who
scored higher on the firefighters exam. Mayor Dannel Malloy's
fire chief Robert McGrath's son and the son of Fire Commissioner
Gaynor Brennan were among the candidates in line for jobs.
hired told The Advocate they thought the process was fixed because
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
at the city clerk's office or fire department offices. The Freedom
Information Act requires that records of how each commissioner
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
failed to keep and file proper records as required by law. As part
the settlement, the legal department also agreed to review the
and meetings of the city's 23 boards and commissions twice a year.
turn, The Advocate agreed to drop two pending complaints regarding
Fire Commission before the Freedom of Information Commission.
his staff has started reviewing agendas and minutes, checking to
sure they are detailed, and for any "glaring mistakes." The review
be filed with the mayor's office by the Jan. 1 deadline. The
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
filing minutes. Commissioners, whose positions are either approved
appointed, typically rely on more experienced members to share
commission guidelines, Cassone said.
volunteers are prone to make mistakes, and it's our responsibility
guide them when we see them. And certainly if The Advocate, or
points out noncompliance of the Freedom of Information laws, we'll
advise them," he said.
department routinely offers Freedom of Information workshops for
elected or appointed officials, Cassone said.
panel shirks laws to hold meeting
December 12 2006
Police Commission barred the public from a special meeting
discuss undisclosed personnel issues and switched the site of the
meeting at the last minute.
occurred after city officials accused the police union of
a nine-day sickout that apparently ended Friday. The union
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
- the home of Police Commission Chairman Mark Denham - at 12:30
Saturday to attend the meeting, but no one answered the door and
appeared to be home. No lights were on, and no cars were in the
for the commission to meet on a weekend or at a member's home.
meetings are held Monday evenings at police headquarters.
the reporter called police headquarters Saturday seeking the site
the meeting, the man who answered said neither he nor the desk
on duty knew about a Police Commission meeting that day.
held at police headquarters, Denham said. The commission moved the
meeting because he was out of town and could not host it, Denham
He participated by telephone. City and Town Clerk Donna
said her office never received notice of the meeting, as required
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
session, meaning the public could not attend.
Merenda, president of the police union, said the commissioners
not let him attend because they were in executive session. Merenda
the commissioners told him they went into executive session to
They did not
elaborate, he said.
may go into executive session to discuss personnel issues only if
matter involves a specific employee or employees, according to
Freedom of Information laws. The employee or employees must agree
have the meeting held in executive session.
yesterday the commission discussed general personnel issues, not
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
session for personnel issues whenever we wanted."
yesterday that her office did not receive notice of a Saturday
commission meeting. Special meetings, such as the one held
are required by law to be posted with the town clerk at least 24
in advance. The notice must state the time and place of the
the business scheduled to be discussed.
no record of a Saturday meeting on the Police Commission's page on
city's Web site, www.cityofstamford.org.
matters" were the only issues to be discussed, according to an
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
in January reminding them of their obligation to file agendas with
city clerk and take minutes at all meetings. The Police Commission
which had not filed any records with the clerk's office for two
then filed records dating to 2004. At the time, the Fire
being scrutinized for lax record-keeping of its meetings.
Freedom of Information Act, records of votes must be made public
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
"I think if
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
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
boards have routinely violated state Freedom of Information laws
what are supposed to be open public meetings in private rooms of
steakhouses, according to state FOI officials.
both pension boards
say their meetings at such places as Bennett's and Morton's
are not open to the public because sensitive medical information
strategy are discussed. City and state officials say
no special provision for
pension boards not noticing meetings, not being public, not
things like that," said Tom Hennick, public education officer
Freedom of Information Commission. The city has four
pension boards. The certified and custodian boards hold open
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
police and fire pension boards don't file agendas or minutes or
meetings to the public.
Finance member Joseph Tarzia
said the very location of the meetings makes them "secret."
the public going to go to
a place where it costs you $100 to eat?" he said. Police
Cronin and Assistant Fire Chief Peter Brown said they don't
respective boards are required to hold open meetings. Cronin
sensitivity of medical information reviewed during discussions
(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
to attend a meeting. He also denied a request to review meeting
citing the medical information that might be contained in the
review of the board's agendas for
the past three years showed 35 meals at Bennett's, two at
three at other restaurants. The fund's financial adviser picks
for the meals, Cronin said. Brown, who has been on the
board for 20 years, said it has received legal advice in the
the board that its meetings did not have to be open to the
an attorney for
the city, said the pension boards are independent and it is not
Department's role to advise them. But Mayor Dannel Malloy,
on the board of the largest pension fund, for classified
some advice for the police and fire boards.
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
. . . just like everyone else." Tarzia said the boards
only be hauled before the FOI commission, but other agencies
investigate their spending habits.
line is whose interest
are they watching out for -- the pensioners or themselves?" he
FOI Covers E-Mail, Voice Mail
AND VOICEMAIL DECLARATORY RULING
March 21, 2003 editorial, Hartford
state Freedom of Information
Act took effect 28 years ago, few could have predicted the
government business would one day be conducted by electronic
computer e-mails and telephone
voice mails, officials can, in effect, skirt state FOI
public access to records and meetings.
important draft ruling, the
FOI Commission recently concluded that e-mails and voice mails
records; that they must be retained; and that the public should
to see copies of such records. The draft also says that such
could constitute a "meeting" under state law.
obvious obstacles involving
cost and technology to fulfill those requirements, but the
sound. Government business must be conducted in public and
not be excluded from the decision-making process. The FOI
offers an example in which three selectmen exchange e-mails and
about a proposed legal settlement. Under the FOI draft, these
would be public records. However, the draft says the exchange
violate the law's open meeting requirements if the public was
of e-mails about government
business should not be difficult. Storing voice mail records
but still possible. It seems unlikely that any agency will
conduct official business exclusively by e-mail or voice mail.
the rapid development of new electronic forms of communication,
for abuse escalate. For example, the draft notes that a quorum
agency's members could log into a computer "chat" room to
business without informing the public.
Commission is on the right
track. People ought to have access to government records, even
information is contained in e-mails and voice mails. And
should not be conducted out of public view.