Congratulating Connecticut’s Champions of Open Government

This year the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information has a great deal to be optimistic about.

In its role defending and upholding Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law and principles, there have been many years when success is only measured by keeping the inevitable setbacks and losses as small as possible.

Every year, lawmakers and litigants push for new ways to “improve” the FOI, and nine times out of 10, the proposal would make previously public government information unavailable to the governed.

This year has been much different.

On Sept. 20 the CCFOI recognized people who helped, in a gathering at The Hartford Club.

In particular, it saluted State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a local news junkie and a champion for open government, and other lawmakers and journalists fighting the good fight to ensure government is performing properly on behalf of “We the People.”

Osten gets her news in print, starting each morning by reading New London’s The Day, perusing five other Connecticut publications for items of interest and looking at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

In an interview with Karen Florin, managing editor or The Day and a CCFOI board member, Osten described her news consumption habits and legislative efforts.

Osten, co-chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, received the CCFOI’s Bice Clemow award for ensuring a funding increase of about $200,000 in the state budget for two additional staff members for the Freedom of Information Commission, which was experiencing a backlog of cases.

CCFOI’s legislative co-chairperson, Michelle Jacklin, presented Osten the award, which is given annually to public officials.

“She has long been an advocate of transparency and accountability and even mentioned her ‘desire for open government’ in her political bio,” Jacklin said.

CCFOI President Mike Saving presents Sen. Cathy Osten with the Bice Clemow Award at the CCFOI awards ceremony at The Hartford Club on Sept. 20, 2023. (Mary Quinn)

The award is named for Clemow, a Connecticut journalist who died in 2000 and was a driving force behind the creation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Defending the Freedom of Information Act is necessary and ongoing work for journalists, attorneys and members of the public.

This year the CCFOI was able to celebrate advancing the FOIA into the 21st century, said CCFOI President Mike Savino, with the passage of a bill that ensures state agencies are transparent about how they use artificial intelligence.

CCFOI President Michael Savino presents Attorney Kelsey Eberly with the Champion for Open Government Award. (Mary Quinn)

Attorney Kelsey Eberly, working with Yale University’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, received the Champion of Open Government award for working with CCFOI to ensure the new law “provided real transparency around the ways the government uses automated decision making to conduct the public’s business,” according to Savino.

State Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, also received a Clemow award. As co-chairperson of the General Law Committee, he played a critical role in drafting legislation designed to make artificial intelligence software by state agencies more understandable and accountable.

Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporters Joshua Eaton and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas accept the Stephen A. Collins Memorial Award from CCFOI. Reporter Brian Lockhart was also part of the team recognized. (Mary Quinn)

Also recognized by the CCFOI were Hearst Connecticut Media journalists Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Joshua Eaton, and Brian Lockhart, who exposed a backlog of at least 2,000 unanswered requests for public information in Bridgeport. The dire Bridgeport situation led to a new law that increases the maximum fine to $5,000 for government agencies who flagrantly violate the FOIA.

Paula Pearlman, left, and Colleen Murphy, right. (Mary Quinn)

Paula Pearlman, managing director and general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission, known for poring over legislative proposals and watching hearings on CT-N on her “off time,” received the Champion of Open Government Award for “uncovering potential exemptions that are otherwise quietly written into legislation.”

“Her invaluable expertise has helped CCFOI block several bad proposals that would have eroded the public’s right to know,” according to Savino.

Congratulations to all, and let’s continue to fight the good fight for the public’s right to know.

About Thomas Scheffey

Writer, reporter, lawyer and student of government policy. Husband, father of two brilliant adults and grandfather of two wonderful pre-schoolers. Interests include the great outdoors, timber, trout and water in all its forms.