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