Editorial: Strengthen Public Information by Mandating Training – Norwich Bulletin

As one of a select few states with a public board dedicated to adjudicating freedom of information disputes, Connecticut is uniquely equipped to uphold public access to government meetings and documents. But there is always room for improvement.

An Eastern Connecticut resident recently called to our attention a dynamic of the state Freedom of Information Commission’s operation that he says renders their judgments toothless and compromises public trust in both the commission and the government bodies it is charged with holding to account.

In a June 1 letter emailed to commissioners, Paul Baer withdrew pending appeals he had filed against boards and committees of the town of Thompson, citing the commission’s failure to levy civil fines against officials found to be in violation of state FOI law.

In final decisions answering three earlier complaints Baer filed, the commission found two town boards had failed to post agendas or meeting minutes in accordance with the law, but commissioners accepted explanations including staff absence and lack of Web training. Two of the violations prompted a commission order stating, “Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply” with the relevant sections of the FOI act.

Baer says the boilerplate language, unaccompanied by any kind of civil penalty — the law allows a fine of up to $1,000 for an offense — denudes the commission of authority and constitutes a dereliction of the duty to enforce FOI standards.

“What’s the incentive for these government agencies not to keep violating the Freedom of Information Act?” [Read More]