F.O.I. back on the WEB!  Stamford Boards and Commissions still don't get itE-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

The 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 members attended.

Who 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 discussion.

It took a year so far...
Stonington releases some heavily redacted Habarek texts

The Day
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 limits."

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:  http://www.theday.com/local/20150219/stonington-releases-some-heavily-redacted-habarek-texts

Use of social media in police protection and law enforcement http://www.unionleader.com/article/20141023/NEWS03/141029514

Greenwich boards prepare minutes to secret meeting
Robert Marchant, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:43 pm, Friday, January 2, 2015

Town officials are in the process of approving the minutes of an illegal, closed-door meeting attended by various boards that looked at ways to clean up contaminated soil at Greenwich High School two years 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 approving minutes.

The BET held the special meeting Feb. 26, 2013, and asked members of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Education to attend. According to the agenda, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a "pending claim" related to the remediation of the high school grounds.

The state's Freedom of Information law allows litigation to be discussed in executive session behind closed doors...story in full:  http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Greenwich-boards-prepare-minutes-to-secret-meeting-5991059.php#photo-7343012

Judge: Greenwich officials' meeting was illegal

Greenwich TIME

By Justin Pottle
Published 8:14 pm, Friday, October 31, 2014  

A judge has upheld the state Freedom of Information Commission's ruling that a closed-door meeting Greenwich officials held to discuss ground contamination was illegal.

The judge on Thursday dismissed the town's appeal of that ruling -- rejecting its argument that members of three boards were legally justified meeting in private because they were discussing a legal claim. He upheld the FOI Commission's finding that officials instead discussed and reached consensus on how best to clean up contaminated soil at Greenwich High School -- before remediation options were presented to the public...story in full:   http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Judge-Greenwich-officials-meeting-was-illegal-5862253.php

FOI Advocate: Malloy Administration Should Push Charter Group On Public Disclosure

FUSE, Jumoke Academy, Lately Have Been Consulting Lawyer Who Is Malloy Pal And Democratic Fundraiser
Hartford  Courant
Jon Lender, Government Watch
9:53 PM EDT, July 12, 2014

The president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information is blasting an embattled Hartford charter school group for refusing to release information to the public about its taxpayer-funded operations – adding that the Malloy administration should push the group harder to obey FOI laws.

Officials in the Malloy administration have said that they are not sure how the FOI laws apply to charter school organizations and that they need to study the issue further. But Jim Smith, head of the nonprofit group that advocates for laws protecting the public's right to know, is unequivocal in his belief that the laws do apply.

"Charter schools are certainly one solution of the problems in education in Connecticut and in America. There are things in education that are properly private, like academic records," Smith said. "But if the charter schools [receive]... public moneys, then charter school officials who refuse to divulge information are breaking the Freedom of 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.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Hartford COURANT website]

How the CT Legislature works:  Or the literary alternative...or back again?
  Or the Legislature supported by the State Supreme Court?
FOI Task Force Bill Swings Back Towards Openness
by Hugh McQuaid | Mar 24, 2014 6:30pm

The Government Administration and Elections Committee stripped restrictions on public access to 911 recordings from a bill before voting on the controversial proposal Monday.

The committee leaned heavily in favor of public access when it adopted new language on a bill that sought to find compromise between open government and crime victims’ privacy.

The bill had been written to create a special class of public records, which the public could inspect but not copy. The language placed the burden of releasing those records on the person requesting the documents. A task force that proposed the recommendations in the bill called for recordings of 911 emergency calls and pictures depicting the bodies of homicide victims be included in this class of records.

Lawmakers removed language regarding 911 recordings from the bill, meaning the public will retain access to them. They preserved the look-but-don’t-copy policy for pictures depicting homicide victims but flipped the burden of proof so it falls on the government to explain why they should not be released.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CTNEWSJUNKIE website]

Task Force Wants Copying Certain Records To Be A Crime
by Hugh McQuaid | Jan 24, 2014 5:13pm

An early draft of a report from a task force weighing privacy against public disclosure would have recommended making it a felony to copy certain law enforcement records without permission.

That language was softened by the time the panel approved its final report during Friday’s meeting. The report reaffirms recommendations approved by the group last month that would change the way the public accesses some law enforcement records.

The policies endorsed by a majority of the task force would permit a member of the public to view certain law enforcement records pertaining to homicides, but would place the burden of justifying the public release of those documents on the member of the public. Previously, government agencies had the burden of explaining why they did not want to release a record.

The new standard would apply to photographs and videos depicting homicide victims as well as recordings of 911 calls and other police communications describing their bodies. The group also approved a recommendation that the legislature passes a law making it a crime to copy these records without permission.

But according to Colleen Murphy, director of the Freedom of Information Commission, an early draft of the report included language that would have made that crime a Class D felony. Murphy said the group never approved such language and it was removed from subsequent drafts of the report. But Murphy and FOI advocate Jim Smith reacted to the provision in a section of the report’s appendix dedicated to statements from members of the group.

In her statement, Murphy pointed out that a Class D felony charge is “equivalent to strangulation, promoting prostitution and robbery, among other crimes, punishable by up to five years in prison.”

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CTNEWSJUNKIE website]

Bill Drafted In Secret Would Block Release Of Some Newtown Massacre Records
The Hartford Courant
By JON LENDER, EDMUND H. MAHONY and DAVE ALTIMARI, jlender@courant.com
10:18 PM EDT, May 21, 2013

The staffs of the state's top prosecutor and the governor's office have been working in secret with General Assembly leaders on legislation to withhold records related to the police investigation into the Dec. 14 Newtown elementary school massacre — including victims' photos, tapes of 911 calls, and possibly more.

The behind-the-scenes legislative effort came to light Tuesday when The Courant obtained a copy of an email by a top assistant to Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane, Timothy J. Sugrue. Sugrue, an assistant state's attorney, discussed options considered so far, including blocking release of statements "made by a minor."

"There is complete agreement regarding photos etc., and audio tapes, although the act may allow the disclosure of audio transcripts," Sugrue wrote to Kane, two other Kane subordinates and to Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky, who is directing the investigation of the killings.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Hartford COURANT website]

OP-ED | News on the FOI Front Looks Bleak

by Terry D. Cowgill | May 17, 2013 5:30am

For gadflies, watchdogs, and journalists in the Nutmeg State, the outlook for open access to government information just gets grimmer by the month. With few exceptions, lawmakers and other state officials are trying their best to make it harder for us to take a look at what they’re up to.

The reasons for the desire for more secrecy vary, but they range from a genuine desire for less transparency, to saving money, to pure emotion in the wake of a tragedy. But almost all these measures have one thing in common: they’re bad ideas whose implementation would protect the well connected at the expense of the people.

A report last week by The Courant’s Jon Lender reveals a disturbing pattern. Various pieces of legislation are pending in the General Assembly that would withhold the home addresses of certain state employees, bar access to records of those seeking pardons, and force taxpayers to pay a fee simply for the privilege of viewing a police report.

One of the most troubling is a bill sponsored by Newtown Republican state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, who proposed a one-paragraph bill that would restrict public access to the death certificates of minors until six months after the death. Why? Because Bolinsky got a call from the town clerk, who felt uncomfortable sharing death certificates with reporters only three days after 20 children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As should be obvious to everyone, perhaps the worst time to change the law is when emotions get the best of our public officials. Harken back to two years ago when then-Sen. Edith Prague, a principled and longtime opponent of the death penalty, changed her mind after meeting with Dr. William Petit, the sole survivor of a violent and deadly home invasion in Cheshire four years ago.

If anything, the Newtown massacre was even more catastrophic than what happened in Cheshire. So the urge to proceed on emotion should be resisted more firmly. A couple of mass murders rightly stimulate discussion on gun control but they should not be cause for restricting public access to public records.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CTNEWSJUNKIE website]

OP-ED | Superagency Must Be Able To Maintain Independence
by James H. Smith | Nov 27, 2012 10:52am

If you care about ethics in government, honest elections, or the right to know what your government is doing, then the mess at the Office of Governmental Accountability should be cause for alarm. At best, they’re wrestling with an octopus. At worst, the essential independence of our state watchdog agencies will be crippled. It’s nearly laughable if it weren’t such a shame.

The governor and the legislature created this superagency in 2011 in the name of efficiency. The nine agencies include the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Office of State Ethics, and the Freedom of Information Commission.

Gov. Dan Malloy chose David Guay to be the “executive administrator,” of the superagency. Mr. Guay, who prefers to be the boss rather than merely the administrator, is refusing to meet with the directors of the nine agencies that comprise the Government Accountability Commission, which has the power to fire him. He maintains the commission doesn’t have the power to evaluate his performance, and the governor’s chief counsel appears to back him up on that.

But rather than fire him at this time, the commission prefers to “identify areas that need improvement and resolve them.” He is commended in some areas for his work in the first year of this cobbled-together agency, but he is evaluated critically in key areas of management.

“It is of grave concern to the GAC that (Guay) is unwilling to meet to discuss the status of the consolidation or to collaborate on ways to make it a success as he enters his second year of employment,” states a draft of his evaluation.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CTNEWSJUNKIE website]

Change of plans. Meetings creating teacher evaluations will be public.
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
May 23, 2012

After holding numerous meetings behind closed doors to finalize details on how teachers and principals will be graded, the State Department of Education has said the public and the media can attend the sessions from now on.

"Something is different at this meeting. At this meeting -- in the interest of transparency -- the state department has invited the press to join us," is how Elizabeth Shaw, the state's consultant with Education First, started Wednesday's "working group" meeting.

This decision to conduct open meetings comes one day after the Connecticut Mirror reported that several private meetings have taken place without public notice and that 10 more closed sessions had been scheduled.

It also follows a contentious Performance Evaluation Advisory Council meeting last week, the first public meeting in three months, where members butted heads on how much weight to give students' standardized test results in teacher evaluations.

The council had planned to reconvene this past Monday to start to hash out issues raised during the meeting, but Monday's session was cancelled, and the closed "working group" meetings scheduled instead. The next public meeting had not been scheduled until June 21, nine days before the panel's June 30 deadline. The state Board of Education is expected to sign off on the evaluations shortly after that.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

Teacher evaluation panel moves its work behind closed doors
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Keith M. Phaneuf
May 22, 2012

After a contentious public meeting last week on developing a new teacher and principal evaluation system, the state Department of Education has closed its meetings on the topic to the public and the media.

Instead, a series of private "working group" meetings is scheduled to take place in the weeks before the panel's June 30 deadline to create a model process on evaluation under the new education reform law. The next public meeting is not until June 21, nine days before the panel is required to finish their work. The state Board of Education is expected to sign off on the evaluations shortly after that.

Asked if these "working group" meetings will be open to the public, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor last week referred all questions to a State Department of Education spokesman, who declined to give notification of these meetings nor copies of its minutes.

At its first public meeting in three months, members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council last week butted heads on how much weight students' standardized test results should have when their teachers are evaluated.

The council had planned to reconvene Monday to begin to hash out a list of issues raised during the meeting, including the standardized tests issue and how many times teachers should be observed during the school year.

The education department cancelled Monday's meeting, however, and scheduled 10 private "working group" meetings instead, including one this morning on principal evaluations. The other groups set to meet in closed sessions this week include Implementation, Teacher Evaluation, Pupil Services and Observation.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

Complaint filed over reform consultant hiring
Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 09:31 p.m., Friday, April 27, 2012

HARTFORD -- The head of a nonprofit consumer watchdog on Friday filed a whistleblower complaint charging that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor violated state law in the hiring of school reform consultants in January.

Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, asked the state's auditors of Public Accounts to investigate Pryor and Malloy's use of a little-known agency, the State Education Resource Center, to avoid state contracting rules in hiring two consultants for $269,000.

In reaction, Andrew J. McDonald, Malloy's legal counsel, said Friday the charge against the governor is "reckless" and "devoid of any evidence."

Robert M. Ward, one of the two state auditors, said Friday that state rules requiring the protection of anonymity in whistleblower limited him to only confirming a complaint was filed.

Swan, a well-known state activist, said he submitted the accusation after reviewing state Department of Education e-mails and contracts, copies of which he was given under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

The e-mails, some of which were obtained by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers, indicate Education First Inc., of Seattle, and Leeds Global Partners, of New York, were both acting as consultants for Pryor even before their contracts were signed earlier this year.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT POST website]

Bill to allow public boards more discretion to meet privately hits a snag
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
March 14, 2012

A proposal to give public agencies greater discretion to meet in closed sessions with their attorneys has fallen into political limbo at the Capitol.  The legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee, which originally raised the bill and scheduled a public hearing on the measure, suspended the latter and may not reschedule it in the face of objections from right-to-know advocates.

"I am not committed to going forward with a public hearing right now," said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the GAE committee. "There are very limited things you can go into executive session for right now and we're always cautious about (changing) that."

The measure, which originally was slated for a public hearing on March 12, and later was considered to be heard next week, had been raised at the request of Attorney General George Jepsen's office, which declined comment late Wednesday afternoon.  But it quickly drew opposition from the state Freedom of Information Commission, as well as from the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. The latter is a coalition of nearly three dozen newspapers, television and radio stations and other news media organizations.

"There's already too much secrecy in state and local government and we're trying to prevent more," said CCFOI President Jim Smith, a veteran Connecticut newspaper editor who retired last year as executive editor of the Bristol Press and the New Britain Herald.

Smith said his group fears the bill would open the door to potential abuse of closed-door talks by public agencies. "They could go into executive session and discuss anything and no one would know," he said.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

House passes emergency FOI fix
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
February 23, 2012

The House of Representatives adopted an emergency fix Thursday to the state's right-to-know law that could break a legal logjam blocking the release of voter lists and other omnibus public registries.

The bill, which passed 120-11 and now heads to the Senate, would allow public agencies to release major voter and property databases without the arduous task of identifying and redacting addresses of police officers, prison guards and other "protected" public employees.

But critics argued that the measure, adopted without a public hearing, is technically flawed, and offers little security to those employees hoping to keep their personal information private.

And the head of Connecticut's right-to-know agency warned Thursday that another legislative fix still might be needed.

"This is a whole lot better and helps the towns a whole lot more than what they are dealing with now," said Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

Official record-keepers at the state and municipal levels have been at odds since last June when the state Supreme Court ruled that a statute barring disclosure of home addresses of protected employees applied to the motor vehicle registration lists that communities use to prepare property tax bills.

Based on that ruling, legislators said it became clear that the statute also would apply to other common governmental databases, including voter registration lists.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

Change of course on Gabriele FOI complaint

Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:15 p.m., Wednesday, February 22, 2012

STAMFORD -- A state Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer has changed course on a complaint city Rep. Sal Gabriele, R-16, lodged against the Board of Representatives.

The officer, Victor Perpetua, appeared to side with Gabriele at a Jan. 30 commission hearing, which was held to discuss the city representative's allegations that eight members of the board's leadership violated the Freedom of Information Act by discussing, signing and sending a letter related to city business without holding a public meeting.

But in his proposed decision, which both parties received earlier this week, Perpetua wrote that the letter did not constitute a proceeding of the board and recommended dismissal of Gabriele's complaint.

"At the hearing, the hearing officer indicated on the record that he believed that those actions constituted a proceeding of the respondent board," Perpetua wrote in his finding, dated Feb. 2. "However, upon review of the relevant case law, the hearing officer's conclusion was premature, and regrettably erroneous."

Perpetua's proposed decision represents an abrupt reversal from the January hearing in Hartford, during which he seemed so sure of his support for Gabriele's position that he did not accept evidence on the complaint and denied a request from Board of Representatives President Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leader Harry Day to testify.

Skigen and Day did submit a 91-page response to the commission on Feb. 8, but it is unclear if the information played a factor in Perpetua's proposed finding, which is dated six days earlier.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Stamford ADVOCATE website]

Gabriele poised to win FOI complaint - previously in Stamford
Open government: Gabriele poised to win FOI complaint; reps have 'grave concerns'

Kate King, Staff Writer, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:49 p.m., Monday, January 30, 2012

HARTFORD -- City Rep. Sal Gabriele, R-16, won a preliminary victory Monday in a Freedom of Information complaint lodged against the Board of Representatives, the outcome of which could have far-reaching effects within city government.

Gabriele and his Fairfield-based lawyer, Joe Sargent, appeared before the state Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford Monday morning for a hearing on Gabriele's complaint, which alleged eight members of the board's leadership violated the Freedom of Information Act by discussing, signing and sending a letter related to city business without holding a public meeting.  Board of Representatives President Randy Skigen and Deputy Minority Leaders Harry Day and Mary Fedeli also attended the hearing, where they were represented by Stamford attorney Michael Toma.

Commission hearing officer Victor Perpetua disagreed with Toma's defense, which asserted the letter in question was not a government proceeding and the board's eight-member leadership did not constitute a government body subject to FOI laws.  Perpetua did not accept evidence on the complaint and denied a request from Skigen and Day to testify at the hearing.

"Not to minimize anybody's position, but it just seems obvious that a group of leadership individuals ... acted as a group, as some type of subset, either on behalf of or perhaps as a sub-committee," Perpetua said. "They didn't do it in their personal capacities.

"I'm also going to rule, just sitting here now, that the discussion of and signing and delivery of the letter constituted a proceeding for the purpose of the (Freedom of Information) Act."

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Stamford ADVOCATE website]

And they did, ultimately withdrawing offer to Republican.
Legislators urge SEEC to reject Giuliano as new director
Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 13, 2012

The co-chairmen of the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee called Friday afternoon for the state's elections watchdog panel to reconsider its plans to name former Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano as its new executive director.

Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, told the State Elections Enforcement Commission by letter that Giuliano does not meet the basic qualification required of commissioners: that he be at least three years removed from partisan politics.

Giuliano, a Republican, served three terms as Middletown's mayor through 2011. He lost his bid for a fourth term last November, defeated by Democrat Dan Drew. The commission announced Thursday that it planned to name Giuliano to the executive director's post at a meeting Wednesday.

"I strongly believe the SEEC must first and foremost be an independent watchdog of Connecticut's elections policies, procedures and processes, without even a hint of partisanship, and a chief elected official, of any party and any municipality, who served in office and ran for re-election as recently as this nominee, compromises that desire for irrefutable nonpartisanship," Slossberg said.

"Individual SEEC commissioners must be removed from partisan politics for three full years before they are eligible to serve; I think the same standard should be applied to the agency's staff positions as well," she said.

"There is no place for partisan politics at Elections Enforcement," Morin said. "In essence, the commissioners are naming an executive director whose feet are still tired from walking the campaign trail. This is a job that rises above party politics -- even the slightest hint of partisanship would contaminate Election Enforcement's ability to carry out its mission."

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

See other article.
Former Middletown mayor to oversee elections enforcement
Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 12, 2012

For the first time, the state's elections watchdog agency has chosen a politician and an outsider to lead its operations, tapping Sebastian N. Giuliano, a Republican fresh off a losing re-election campaign for mayor of Middletown.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission named Giuliano on Thursday to become its new executive director and general counsel, giving the agency its first director with a partisan past and experience as a candidate. He also would be the first director in decades who was not a career state employee.

Giuliano had served six years as Middletown's chief executive until losing his bid for a fourth term in November to Democrat Dan Drew, who was strongly backed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Giuliano succeeds Albert P. Lenge, who retired in November.

"In light of the challenges we face in the area of public campaign financing and agency consolidation issues, I have every confidence that Sebastian Giuliano possesses the knowledge and experience to lead the commission," said Stephen F. Cashman, the commission's chairman. "We believe he is the right guy for the job."

Cashman said Giuliano stood out in a crowded field of candidates, but he may need to overcome some skepticism among Democratic proponents of public financing in the legislature.

The state's public financiing program was opposed by most Republicans, including the former party chairman who ran Giuliano's first successful campaign for mayor, Chris Healy.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

Watchdog agencies spared as Malloy nails down budget cuts
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 6, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration already has secured one-fifth of this year's savings called for in the union concession deal--and apparently won't be trying to take any more funding from Connecticut's three chief watchdog agencies.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes reported Tuesday that $135 million was withheld from agencies' budget allotments for July through September--the first quarter of fiscal 2011-12--reflecting savings tied to layoffs, a wage freeze, retirements, benefit restrictions, facility closings and schedule reductions, and other cost-saving initiatives.

Barnes, Malloy's budget director, also said that while his office hadn't completed its review of all vacant positions funded in this year's budget, he anticipates that the Freedom of Information and State Election Enforcement commissions, as well as the Office of State Ethics, would be allowed to fill four budgeted posts that the administration effectively had frozen since July 1.

And when the elections panel's executive director, Albert Lenge, retires at month's end, the commission also likely would be allowed to fill his post, Barnes added.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

ACLU questions use of 'cell phone dragnets'
Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
Updated 12:09 a.m., Thursday, August 4, 2011

HARTFORD -- Six cities across the state, plus the Connecticut State Police, were the targets Wednesday of an effort to gauge the extent that law enforcement may be using cellphone locations to invade privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut joined other ACLU offices in a nationwide campaign to determine whether police are improperly tracking people using their cellphone data. It's one of the first efforts at protecting digital privacy.

Freedom of Information Act requests were sent to the state police and local police departments of Danbury, Waterbury, New Haven, Willimantic, New London and Berlin in what could be the start of a multiyear effort to determine whether privacy rights have been violated.

Except for Berlin, where a warrantless federal tracking campaign occurred in 2008, the cities were selected geographically.

The ACLU asked whether law enforcement officials show probable cause and obtain warrants from judges before obtaining cellphone location information; and how often they seek such information.

In addition, the ACLU requested budget totals on the cost of local cellphone tracking; and policies and procedures for gathering location data.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT POST website]

OP-ED | Problems Belie CT’s Strong FOI Laws
by Terry Cowgill | Jul 29, 2011 9:58am

Having worked for five years as a journalist in New York, a state with relatively weak freedom-of-information laws, I have long bragged about living in Connecticut, where our Freedom of Information Commission actually has some teeth.

In New York, if I was barred unlawfully from a meeting or denied access to public records, all I could really do was either file an FOI request for the materials or call the estimable Bob Freeman, who still heads the state’s Committee on Open Government. I could get a quote or two from Freeman about the injustice of it all and then publish a story to that effect. Of course, I could also file a lawsuit against the municipality or school district, but that required time and resources my tiny newspaper company simply did not have.

When I started working as journalist in the Nutmeg state, I breathed a sigh of relief. Reporters and their publishers could file formal complaints to the FOIC and often they were granted hearings to air their grievances. The commission could file declaratory rulings, grant relief and, if necessary, refer matters to the courts for further review and possible action.

But, as you might expect, even in a state that respects freedom of information and open government, there are still parties that try mightily to avoid compliance or erect unreasonable barriers to the public’s right to know. Two examples caught my eye this month.

A Rocky Hill gadfly named Ed Peruta walked into his local state police barracks and asked to see all accident reports prepared by two state troopers. Police told Peruta he would have to pay a $16 “inspection fee” per report for the 400 or so he wanted to see. Mind you, all Peruta wanted to do was review the documents, not have them photocopied or scanned. Just for the privilege of eyeballing the reports, Peruta was told he’d have to pony up $6,352.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CTNEWSJUNKIE website]

Retired FOI czar ready to lead unified watchdog group for free
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
July 29, 2011

The leader of Connecticut's right-to-know agency for three decades -- and who referred to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to merge nine watchdog groups "a disaster" is one of five finalists to head the unified Office of Governmental Accountability.

And Mitchell W. Pearlman, who retired in 2005 after 30 years with the Freedom of Information Commission and 28 years as its executive director and general counsel, also pledged to forfeit his salary if given the job.

Pearlman was scheduled to be interviewed later Friday by the division heads within the new Office of Governmental Accountability. That panel must recommend at least three finalists by the end of business Monday to Malloy, but can submit more. The governor must appoint a director from that pool of candidates.

The OGA division heads began public interviews Friday, with more scheduled for Monday. According to panel's personnel search committee report, the group is looking primarily from within Connecticut government for a new director to oversee business and administrative functions.

"Given what's happening, I thought it would be unfair for me to collect a salary," Pearlman, a Glastonbury lawyer, said, adding that the only benefit he would accept is coverage against on-the-job injuries under workers' compensation system. "If I can save a job or two, that's good."

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the CT MIRROR website]

Compromise sought on postings
New Haven Register
Associated Press
Sunday, March 15, 2009 7:17 AM EDT

HARTFORD — When it was approved last year, a law requiring Connecticut municipalities to quickly post their meeting minutes online was hailed by supporters as significantly boosting public access to information.

In the five months since it went into effect, however, several small towns have suspended their Web sites instead and others are considering it, all saying they lack the technology or money to comply with the new posting rules.  Now, several compromises are being considered at the General Assembly to balance the law’s original intent with the towns’ concerns about being fined for violating the state Freedom of Information Act.

“Some of the towns aren’t used to posting things regularly, so we do recognize this could be a new challenge,” said state Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex. “Maybe with a little time to figure out how to do it, the towns may find that it’s easier than they initially thought it would be.”

The law, which went into effect Oct. 1, requires municipalities to post agendas on their Web sites at least 24 hours before all public meetings and their minutes within a week afterward.  Several town leaders, especially in small communities, complained to their legislators that they rely on part-time or volunteer Webmasters. Others said complying with the law would mean paying more to contractors for the extra work, equating to an unfunded state mandate.

Failure to comply could result in complaints to the state Freedom of Information Commission. At least nine towns have suspended their Web sites since October rather than risk facing an FOI complaint for violating the new rules.  The legislature’s committee on government administration and elections, which Spallone co-chairs, recently endorsed a bill intended to offer some middle ground.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the NEW HAVEN REGISTER website]

League of Women Voters of Norwalk hosts FOI forum
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
Posted on 12/04/2008

Residents learned details of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, and had an opportunity to ask questions, during an educational forum hosted by The League of Women Voters of Norwalk at City Hall on Thursday night.

A question by Tara Forschino, a Fox Run Elementary School PTO member, bore resemblance to a recent FOI request filed by parents of special needs children within the larger school district.

"If there is, whether it be, say a teacher or law enforcement, and there are background checks done," Forschino said. "If that information is in someone's file, and someone wants to evaluate just that specific information out of someone's personnel file, where would that fall?"

Tom Hennick, public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and guest speaker at the forum, had no simple answer for people looking for a blanket explanation.

"It really matters on what's in there," Hennick said. "But if you go ask for a background check on a teacher you believe is doing something improper, that would sort of, in my mind, spill it toward a matter of public concern and make sure it's released.

"But it really is a case-by-case basis," Hennick added.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the THE HOUR (Norwalk, CT) website]

Folks take their zoning seriously in lower Fairfield County...not exactly an FOI matter, but one that crosses the lines--is it ethics, FOI or "open government" at stake?
Steps taken for safety at Westport meetings
Westport News
By Don Casciato
Article Launched: 03/21/2008 02:51:14 PM EDT

With litte fanfare, Westport leaders are making an effort to provide more safety at town meetings.

The decision was made after a resident created a disturbance at a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Feb. 26. Robert Adler, of Owenoke Park, confronted ZBA members about the construction of a dormer at his home. Adler claimed his application five years earlier was similar but was rejected.

Prior to the start of Wednesday's ZBA meeting, an executive session was held with First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Westport Police Chief Al Fiore in attendance.

"We are constantly evaluating," said Joseloff in a telephone interview yesterday morning when asked about the session. "Briefly, we talked about what has been done and what procedures to use in the future."

As it stands now, there will be more of a police presence at meetings in town -- especially at night. Uniformed officers will be "popping in" during the course of Town Hall meetings but not be present all of the time.

In addition, a plainclothes officer is attending the series of six public hearings by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for the Westport Weston Family Y's application for a new facility.  Asked for comment, Fiore said, "I thought they [the board members] handled things appropriately." He also suggested that people call the police if there is a problem.

After the Feb. 26 incident, Joseloff and other town officials started looking at ways to increase safety at Town Hall meetings.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Westport NEWS website]

Stop School E-Mail Abuse 
DAY editorial
Published on 12/14/2007 

Citizens of North Stonington have every right to be concerned that a public school teacher used her work e-mail account to send out political missives.

That is absolutely unacceptable.

And despite the public apology of Darren Robert, the Democratic chairman of the town's Board of Education, a thorough investigation of the alleged misuse of the e-mail system should be instigated.

Public school employees should never, ever use public property for political purposes.

The dust-up in North Stonington is jarringly similar to a situation that occurred in New London last May. In the Whaling City instance, Alvin G. Kinsall, the Democratic chairman of the Board of Education, asked the administrative aide to the superintendent of schools to send out an e-mail to district employees and supporters to head off a move by two city councilors to cut $500,000 from the education budget.

In this case, the employee did what the school board chairman asked her. But the message she sent was politically charged and should have signaled a red flag. The two councilors involved never filed a formal complaint, because they understood it was the administrative aide who might ultimately be penalized, and not Mr. Kinsall, who was clearly way out of line.

New London schools Superintendent Christopher Clouet later acknowledged the e-mail was inappropriate.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at THE DAY (New London, CT) website]

FOI request taxes schools' resources
Greenwich TIME
By Andrew Shaw, Staff Writer
Published April 14 2007

Greenwich Public Schools officials say a recent parent request for the release of public documents under the Freedom of Information Act has created a burden on staff that will cost the district thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of work.

Superintendent of Schools Betty Sternberg gave a progress report to the Board of Education at Thursday's regular work session. The FOI request by Marianna Cohen seeks to retrieve all e-mails sent and received by seven of the top district administrators, including Sternberg, from Sept. 6, 2006, through March 15.

Cohen, who attended the meeting, specifically is seeking any e-mails regarding Parkway School, Glenville School and the board's task force on racial imbalance, space use and declining enrollment.

"It will take, really, a tremendous amount of dollars and effort," Sternberg said.

Jan Gunnip, the director of technology, told the board that she has two staff members working two hours a day each, essentially pulling them off duty from helping teachers. The staff has collected 10 weeks worth of e-mails so far in about a week and a half, she informed the board.

"It's painful for us to do that," she said.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Greenwich TIME website]

The FOI Law Is The Law:  Norwich councilors conduct public business on the phone without the public. 
By Day Staff Writer  
Published on 3/12/2007

Facing a bitter dispute between Mayor Ben Lathrop and a departing City Manager Robert Zarnetske, members of the Norwich City Council have maneuvered themselves into violating the state's right-to-know law. What the councilors and mayor did is repeated in many cities and towns, but it's still going against the state Freedom of Information Act, and it's not right.

The councilors and mayor got on the phone and basically had a secret meeting about what they would do to hire a successor for the city manager, who had announced he was resigning because of insurmountable differences with Mayor Lathrop.

The problem is that too many public officials consider such phone chats as a privilege. They don't get it that the electronic conversations amount to a meeting of elected public officials without city residents having any idea that the meeting is taking place or that the councilors are conducting public business over the phone.

The phone meetings, without any public notice, are every bit as egregious as though the councilors had all gotten together at a Norwich bar or restaurant to talk about city business without the public's knowing what they were doing. Or even knowing that they were meeting.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at THE DAY (New London, CT) website]

Mitchell Pearlman's Service;  Director of state agency a sterling advocate for the public's right to know what government is doing.
DAY editorial
Published on 12/9/2005

The Freedom of Information Act is the vehicle that allows all Connecticut citizens to find out what their local and state governments are doing. It is a cornerstone of a free and democratic society, so the work of the state commission that administers the legislation is one of the most important in state government.

Later this month, Mitchell W. Pearlman will retire as director of the state Freedom of Information Commission. Since the state established the commission in 1975, Mr. Pearlman has been the leader of this state agency that protects the public's right to know. He has done a splendid job.

In the mid-1970s, a group of newspaper editors persuaded Gov. Ella T. Grasso that too much of what happened in state and local governments took place behind closed doors or without official record. That was wrong, they said. The people of Connecticut had a right to know virtually everything that their governments did.

Gov. Grasso agreed and supported legislation establishing the FOI Commission. The bill passed and the organization went to work to make government more accountable to the public.

As a result, the people of Connecticut now have access to virtually all government meetings except when agencies are discussing matters exempted from disclosure. And those exemptions are extremely limited.

Mr. Pearlman has made his job a balancing act. That is to say, the commission he headed has heard thousands of appeals about potential FOI Act violations and judged them with an objectivity that has been superior. On the other side, as an advocate for openness in government, Mr. Pearlman has been passionate, persistent and patient — passionate in advocating for open government, persistent in tackling recalcitrant opponents and patient in seeking additional amendments improving the FOI Act.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at THE DAY (New London, CT) website]

Commission still untrained in information laws
By Natasha Lee, Staff Writer
Published December 24 2006

STAMFORD -- Nearly nine months after the city agreed to train fire commissioners about open-records laws, it has yet to uphold its end of the bargain.

The deal was reached in April, after The Advocate filed a complaint with the state over the Fire Commission's failure to file meeting agendas, meeting minutes and members' votes as required under the state's Freedom of Information Act. The act protects citizens' rights to access information from public agencies.

The city's legal department, which agreed to make sure the commission adhered to open-records laws, said miscommunication between the department and commission has stalled the training.

"We probably assumed the fire department was going to arrange that (the training) because they are the ones who were supposed to go," said the city's director of legal affairs, Thomas Cassone.

There is no deadline for the training, but without it, the city and Fire Commission are not in compliance with the settlement. The Fire Commission also continues to violate the Freedom of Information Act by failing to file proper, detailed agendas.

City attorney 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.

The settlement came after The Advocate filed complaints with the state commission over a lack of meeting minutes and agendas supposed to be filed by the Fire Commission.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Stamford ADVOCATE website]

Police panel shirks laws to hold meeting
By Zach Lowe, Staff Writer
Published December 12 2006

STAMFORD - The Police Commission barred the public from a special meeting Saturday to discuss undisclosed personnel issues and switched the site of the meeting at the last minute.

The meeting occurred after city officials accused the police union of orchestrating a nine-day sickout that apparently ended Friday.  The union has denied organizing the sickout, which would be a violation of state labor law and the union's contract with the city.

An Advocate reporter went to 73 Ocean Drive West in the Shippan section of Stamford - the home of Police Commission Chairman Mark Denham - at 12:30 p.m. Saturday to attend the meeting, but no one answered the door and no one appeared to be home. No lights were on, and no cars were in the driveway.

It is unusual for the commission to meet on a weekend or at a member's home. Most meetings are held Monday evenings at police headquarters.  When the reporter called police headquarters Saturday seeking the site of the meeting, the man who answered said neither he nor the desk sergeant on duty knew about a Police Commission meeting that day.

The meeting was held at police headquarters, Denham said. The commission moved the meeting because he was out of town and could not host it, Denham said. He participated by telephone.  City and Town Clerk Donna Loglisci said her office never received notice of the meeting, as required by the state Freedom of Information Act.

Denham would not say what was discussed at the 12:30 p.m. meeting, which lasted until 2:10 p.m. He said nearly the entire meeting was held in executive session, meaning the public could not attend.

Officer Michael Merenda, president of the police union, said the commissioners would not let him attend because they were in executive session. Merenda said the commissioners told him they went into executive session to discuss "personnel matters."

They did not elaborate, he said.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Stamford ADVOCATE website]

FOI official: Steakhouse meetings improper
By Kevin McCallum, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
November 23, 2003
STAMFORD -- The police and fire pension boards have routinely violated state Freedom of Information laws by holding what are supposed to be open public meetings in private rooms of pricey steakhouses, according to state FOI officials.

Officials for both pension boards say their meetings at such places as Bennett's and Morton's steakhouses are not open to the public because sensitive medical information and investment strategy are discussed.  City and state officials say that's irrelevant.

"There is no special provision for pension boards not noticing meetings, not being public, not having agendas, things like that," said Tom Hennick, public education officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission.  The city has four independent pension boards. The certified and custodian boards hold open meetings in the Government Center. They also send copies of their
agendas and meeting minutes to the city clerk's office, where they can be reviewed by the public.  The police and fire pension boards don't file agendas or minutes or open their meetings to the public.

Board of Finance member Joseph Tarzia said the very location of the meetings makes them "secret."

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Stamford ADVOCATE website]

FOI Covers E-Mail, Voice Mail

http://www.state.ct.us/foi/What's_New/What's_New_Page.htm#NEW EMAIL AND VOICEMAIL DECLARATORY RULING
March 21, 2003 editorial, Hartford Courant

When the state Freedom of Information Act took effect 28 years ago, few could have predicted the degree to which government business would one day be conducted by electronic means.

By using computer e-mails and telephone voice mails, officials can, in effect, skirt state FOI requirements involving public access to records and meetings.

In an important draft ruling, the FOI Commission recently concluded that e-mails and voice mails are public records; that they must be retained; and that the public should be able to see copies of such records. The draft also says that such communications could constitute a "meeting" under state law.

[Please read the rest of this article in the archives at the Hartford COURANT website]