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.


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