Sunday, March 23, 2014

Video from FOI class for reporters in Middletown

Tom Hennick, public information officer at the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, spoke to reporters in Middletown on March 21 about what is and isn't available to the public under the state's open records laws.

"For democracy to work, people need to know what's going on," Hennick said.

Hennick also offered the following tips:
- Under FOI law, an agency doesn't have to answer questions. But it does have to provide access to public documents and public meetings
- If a board says it's going into executive session, ask why and they should be able to tell you one of five reasons.
- Board members have to start meeting in public, then vote to go into executive session
- "It's just a workshop" or "it's just a task force" are not excuses for not following FOI meeting law. It is still a public meeting.
- Some towns are camera shy, but if it's a public meeting you can take photos or record what is being said
- Open meeting law guarantees access to meetings, does not give you the right to speak at meetings
- Executive level search committee can meet in private under FOI law. Binding arbitration hearings are public
- Bids and RFPs can be kept from public until contract is signed
-  If someone tells you what happened in executive session or you overhear part of it, you can report it without breaking any laws
- One frustration for reporters is FOI law does not necessarily help you meet deadline. Complaints take time, but they are still important

Video from the event is available in two parts:

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Cromwell Town Council revises agenda for executive session

By Viktoria Sundqvist

A reporter brought to my attention last week that the Cromwell Town Council agenda for a March 12 meeting lists an executive session to discuss "employee performance."

Under the state's Freedom of Information Act, a board must provide a little more information than that. However, it does not have to provide the name of the person or the person's title. Suggestions would be "to discuss the performance of a town hall employee."

I sent out an email to the town council chairman asking him to revise the agenda to include more information. The chairman forwarded the information to the town manager.

Both the town manager and I contact the FOI Commission's public education officer to clarify the rules on this, and  the result is that the town revised it's agenda to add "Town Hall employee."

It's a small victory for public information, one that didn't require any complaints to be filed. Sometimes, you can help keep town officials up to speed on what the law requires without causing a big uproar. The public now has slightly more information about what will be discussed at the meeting, and the town now knows someone is watching what it posts on its agendas.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Open data forum: State to make raw data available to public

For the past five years the Connecticut Data Collaborative has been trying to get the state of Connecticut to give it access to its raw data. Last month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order making that possible, according to an article on CTNewsjunkie.com

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Haven city clerk issues, retracts order squashing document release

By Rachel Chinapen
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN >> In his first full week on the job, City Clerk Michael Smart issued several memos, originally prohibiting his staff from releasing public documents without his approval, and, by the fourth memo, reversing that and clarifying that documents would be released as normal, but that he would be the only voice of the office.
In a memo dated Thursday, Smart wrote, “Press/Media inquiry request for interviews, documents etc., but not limited to inquiries from other individuals /representatives of any entity are to be directed to the City Town Clerk, who will give office staff a directive on how to proceed.”
In the memo, he added he will “always be accessible” and if he isn’t “directly” accessible, he can be reached on his cellphone or by email.

Read the full story here.

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Connecticut FOI Commission, law enforcement at odds over access to info

By Luther Turmelle
New Haven Register
HARTFORD >> An attorney representing the state’s Freedom of Information Commission told state Supreme Court justices Thursday that giving law enforcement officials sole discretion on what information to release from arrest reports would be a bad idea and a radical departure from current practices.
Victor Perpetua said the commission has served an effective role over the past 35 years in balancing the public’s need to know against information that needs to be withheld in order to ensure the effective operation of the judicial system. Perpetua made his arguments before the state high court in a case that focuses on whether police can withhold arrest reports from the public and, while prosecutions are pending, simply issue press releases instead.

Read more in the New Haven Register here.

Check out coverage in other Connecticut media outlets on the Supreme Court hearing too!

In the Valley Independent Sentinel here.

In the New London Day here.

In the Waterbury Republican American here.


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Monday, December 2, 2013

Court: Medical board violated FOI law

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in October that the state Medical Examining Board held an illegal secret meeting in 2009 as it was being asked to decide whether it was ethical for doctors to take part in lethal injection executions, according to an Associated Press article.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A history of Powder Ridge

Testing a timeline feature

Saturday, November 2, 2013

AP explains why it wants Sandy Hook 911 calls

In a blog post on the New England First Amendment Coalition website titled "Why AP Wants Sandy Hook 911 Calls," the Associated Press explains why it has asked for the calls, setting off a statewide debate on Freedom of Information issues.
Says William J. Cole, AP's New England bureau chief: "It’s not about a sensational media preying on innocents and exploiting their agony. It’s about reporters getting access to recordings that could shed light on the law enforcement response to one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Newtown families keep pushing for privacy at FOI hearing

Relatives of two Newtown victims appealed for privacy Wednesday by asking a task force to advocate against disclosing 911 recordings from the shooting. They also requested that state’s attorneys not disclose certain details in their pending report, according to an article by CTNewsjunkie.com.

Friday, October 18, 2013

PRESS RELEASE: Malloy selects Owen Egan as chairman of the FOI Commission

From a press release sent out by the governor's office: 
 
Governor Dannel P. Malloy has announced that he has selected Owen P. Eagan of West Hartford to serve as chairman of the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), the state body responsible for administering and enforcing the provisions of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act, which ensures citizen access to the records and meetings of public agencies.

“The Freedom of Information Commission has a critical mission, to ensure that the public is informed about government operations and that they have access to public records,” Governor Malloy said.  “Owen has extensive experience with the commission, and I am confident that he will help lead this office in their important mission of connecting the public with their government.”

Eagan was first appointed to the commission by former Governor M. Jodi Rell in 2009, and then was reappointed by Governor Malloy.  He is a partner with Eagan, Donohue, Van Dyke & Falsey, LLP, where he conducts the general practice of law, concentrating on state and federal civil and criminal litigation.  Previously, he served as Deputy Mayor of West Hartford, where he also once served as a member of the town council.  He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center.

“I am honored and humbled to be appointed as the next chairman of the Freedom of Information Commission and I thank Governor Malloy for this appointment” Eagan said.  “Our state’s Freedom of Information Act is the cornerstone of a vibrant democracy.  The importance of an open and transparent government cannot be understated.  As chairman, I will strive to ensure that all complainants and respondents are given every opportunity to protect their rights under the law.  I look forward to the opportunity to be an important part of this vital process.”

“The appointment of Owen Eagan as the new chairman of the Freedom of Information Commission is welcome news to those who believe in open and accessible government,” Colleen Murphy, Executive Director and General Counsel of the FOIC, said.  “Since joining the FOIC in 2009, Owen has been a dedicated and thoughtful commissioner.  He brings a keen sense of fairness, integrity and an even-handed approach to the chairmanship that will serve the citizens of Connecticut well.”

The FOIC hears complaints from persons who have been denied access to the records of meetings of public agencies, and then renders a decision based on the FOI Act.  Its members are appointed by the Governor and the leadership of the General Assembly.  The Governor is required under state statute to select one of the commission’s nine members to serve as its chairman.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Editorial: State pardons board should meet in public

EDITORIAL:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s words about open government and secrecy at the Board of Pardons and Paroles sound reasonable at first, but his administration’s actions have not matched the words.
Malloy said Friday that the state pardons board should meet in public, with limited exceptions made for the privacy of crime victims. And that it’s a “balancing act, but more often than not, err on the side of transparency.”

Read more here.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

FOI Commission orders release of Sandy Hook 911 tapes

The state’s Freedom of Information Commission on Wednesday ordered the release of the 911 tapes from last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, ruling in favor of an appeal by The Associated Press for access to records withheld by investigators, according to an AP article.

However, the prosecutor leading the investigation into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting said after the ruling that he will ask Connecticut’s courts to block the release of the tapes by filing an appeal of the commission's decision.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

REPORT: Task Force Member Urges Caution Regarding Secrecy

A member of the legislature’s panel tasked with balancing transparency and victim privacy expressed concern Wednesday that the group’s membership is weighted too heavily in favor of reducing public access to information, according to a report on the CTNewsjunkie.com website.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Report: Connecticut's FOI commission a workable model for other states

The New England First Amendment Center has issued a report on Connecticut's FOI commission, saying it should be used as a model for other states.
CLICK HERE to read more.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

SPJ BLOG: Happy FOI-th of July!

This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, according to Kara Hackett at FOI FYI.
Kara Hackett
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf
This Independence Day marks the 47th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act being signed into federal law, establishing our right to open records and meetings. - See more at: http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/foi/2013/07/04/happy-foi-th-of-july/#sthash.dq49z0v0.dpuf

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Newtown town clerk finally obeys state law on death certificates

The Hartford Courant has been trying to get access to death certificates related to the victims in the Newtown shootings last December. However, despite these documents being public documents subject to Freedom of Information law, the local town clerks in Newtown have refused to release them. Until this week. CLICK HERE to read a piece from The Hartford Courant about why this is significant.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CTSPJ appoints four journalists to legislature’s task force on FOI and privacy

The Connecticut Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists voted to appoint four journalists to the Connecticut task force on public information and privacy, created by the state legislature as part of the Newtown public records legislation this month.

READ FULL STORY HERE

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A look at high school athletic budgets

Chris Hunn at the New Haven Register has been working on a long-term project about athletic budgets for 30 public schools in the Greater New Haven area.
He requested all the budgets earlier this year under the Freedom of Information Act, and
he found out who is the highest paid athletic director, what coaches get paid in each district and what it costs to use a pay-for-play program.
READ HIS FULL STORY HERE

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Connecticut legislature approves bill that will seal Newtown and other homicide scene photos

The General Assembly approved a bill Wednesday morning that blocks public release of crime scene photos of murder victims, including the 26 Newtown victims.
The bill made its way through the both chambers of the legislature in less than an hour, with less than 24 hours before the close of the session. More than 100 lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.

Read more here.


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Thursday, May 23, 2013

EDITORIAL: Proposal to keep public in the dark on Newtown findings is absurd

No one wants to inflict additional pain on the families who lost loved ones last December in Newtown, but it’s absurd for officials to try to hide certain findings of the Newtown investigation from the public in the name of protecting the families’ privacy.
What’s worse, it’s alarming that prosecutors, members of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and leaders in the General Assembly crafted legislation along those lines in secret, apparently aiming to avoid public hearings on the topic.

Read more here


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Legislation could block the release of Newtown tragedy records (document)

A bill crafted in secret by the state’s chief prosecutor, the governor’s office and key legislators would prevent the release of some Newtown school shooting investigation records, including crime scene photos and videos and 911 recordings.
A draft of the proposal was released by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office Wednesday afternoon, a day after the Hartford Courant reported on the efforts to create the bill.
The legislation would apply only to the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, although emails obtained by the Courant showed that the Chief State’s Attorney’s office hoped the bill would apply to all cases in Connecticut.


Read more here.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Hamden releases police brutality lawsuit settlement amount to resolve FOI complaint



By Michelle Tuccitto Sullo
New Haven Register
HAMDEN — The town Thursday disclosed it settled an excessive force lawsuit against the Police Department last year for $55,000.
Mayor Scott Jackson called it a “business decision” to settle as opposed to taking the case to trial.
The suit had been filed by Stephen and Nicholas Alberino in U.S. District Court in 2008. While the case was settled early last year, town officials refused to release the amount involved until now.
The New Haven Register filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission last fall, arguing the public has a right to information about a settlement involving litigation against a municipality.
A hearing took place in Hartford in February. The town Thursday finally revealed the amount, in exchange for the Register withdrawing its complaint.

Read more here

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Monday, April 22, 2013

FOI Commission: Rowland documents not public

Former Gov. John Rowland’s consulting job with the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce was funded by that city’s taxpayers, but documents pertaining to his work with the private group are not public records, a hearing officer for the state Freedom of Information Commission said in a proposed final decision last week. A hearing in front of the full commission is scheduled for May 8, according to Andy Thibault, who has spearheaded the complaint.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Gun permits, open records discussed at annual FOI conference in Haddam

Openness makes for a safer society, panelists at an annual Freedom of Information Conference concluded Tuesday.

In the wake of the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, the issues of transparency in government is a timely topic, Freedom of Information Commission Executive Director Colleen Murphy said to a crowd of town officials from across the state gathered at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station.

READ FULL STORY HERE ON MIDDLETOWNPRESS.COM

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

FOI hearing held on Rowland documents

By Viktoria Sundqvist

It is still unclear if the city of Waterbury has done enough to comply with a request seeking public records related to former Gov. John Rowland.

A hearing was held Tuesday at the Freedom of Information offices in Hartford featuring testimony in a complaint filed by Andy Thibault and the New Haven Register against Waterbury and Mayor Neil O’Leary claiming the city has not released all records in its possession related to the former governor’s position as economic development coordinator.

Rowland held the position from January 2008 to January 2012 and was paid by a grant issued by the city to the Chamber of Commerce.

Waterbury officials are saying they have already turned over multiple pages of records and that any other records would be found at the chamber. But since the chamber is not a public entity, those are not public records, the city claims.

“The city of Waterbury did not employ John Rowland,” corporation counsel Linda Wihbey said at the hearing Tuesday.

Rowland’s relationship was solely with the chamber, she said. Wihbey said the city has turned over 169 pages of documents in one batch and 49 pages of documents in another to Thibault in response to his public records request.

Thibault, however, said none of the records contained the information he had asked for such as expense reports, payroll records, job descriptions, time sheets and meeting logs.

“I don’t think they made a viable effort to retrieve records,” he said Tuesday. He also insisted that “the city of Waterbury does not have the legal authority to subcontract away the public’s right to know.”

Attorney Kevin Daly said he would like to get legal clarification as to what responsibility the chamber has to produce the records.

 “To my knowledge, we turned over everything we have to you,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary testified.

Some of the confusion in the case stems from the fact that Rowland’s work arrangement was made under former Mayor Michael Jarjura. Since Jarjura reportedly did not use email, there are fewer public records to request to obtain details of what the specific duties of Rowland’s position were.

Hearing officer Lisa Siegel asked for the city’s contributions to the chamber for the years before, during and after Rowland worked there and said there did appear to be a spike in funds given from the city to the chamber during Rowland’s employment period.

Siegel also said records taken by the federal government in relation to Rowland may not be related to this case.

She is expected to produce a decision and a report in the case in the next few weeks, which will then go to the full Freedom of Information Commission, which will take a vote on whether the state’s Freedom of Information Act was violated.
View video from the hearing.