FOI Commission dismisses complaints against Mosby – The Hour

02/10/16 – By Korey Wilson

HARTFORD — The Freedom of Information Commission upheld a recommendation to dismiss three complaints filed against Board of Education member Shirley Mosby on Wednesday.

The complaints, filed by Peter Torrano, Nancy Chapman and Michael Byrne, followed three FOI requests last year, where the complainants asked Mosby to show proof of a 2014 discrimination complaint that she filed with the Norwalk NAACP. [Read More]

Stamford school board to get ethics training – Stamford Advocate

STAMFORD — The Board of Education’s special meeting scheduled for Tuesday night will consist of two city-mandated trainings, one in the Freedom of Information Act and one in the city’s ethics policies.

Asked about the trainings, Board PresidentJackie Heftman responded to questions by email, saying only, “We are fulfilling a city requirement that members of boards and commissions receive training in these two areas.”

Neither Clemon Williams, the city’s director of human resources who will be on hand to discuss the ethics policy, nor [Read More]

Stamford considers virtual attendance at meetings – Stamford Advocate

Mayor asks reps to consider e-attendance

STAMFORD — The Board of Representatives wants to know if they can phone it in – literally.

At Mayor David Martin‘s prodding, a board committee began research in December on electronic attendance at meetings of the city’s legislative boards and commissions.

There’s nothing in state law that says remote attendance can’t be done, and the state’s Freedom of Information Commission is in agreement — presuming a public board or commission does its business in a way that’s accessible to the public itself, it does not matter if it meets by phone, by video or in person.

Whether it should be done, though, is a matter of opinion, both in Stamford and around the state and country.

Some Stamford boards have been willing theoretically to use telecommunications so that experts can give advice or testimony or so board members can listen in, but it seems as though they have yet to vote remotely.

“I think we may have had a couple times when somebody called in and was on a conference call just to listen,” said Board of Finance Chairman John Louizos. “There’s no vote, it’s more for hearing the presentation before we vote on the budget.”

For example, if the board needed to hear from an expert on a certain subject who was located in Massachusetts a video presentation could avoid the time and expense for that person to come to Stamford, Louizos said.

“Certainly I’d look favorably upon that,” he said.

Land Use Bureau Chief Norman Cole said the boards for planning and zoning take a harder line.

“We do it the old-fashioned way,” he said.

The boards provide accommodations to people who have hearing problems or other impairments, and the public meetings are videotaped, but that’s it. “Beyond that, there’s no way that people can participate in meetings without physically being there,” Cole said.

When experts speak to the boards, they’re usually representing applicants who pay them to appear, so having them show up in person is neither an inconvenience or expense to the city, he said.

“It’s preferable to sit in the same room, get the vibes of your fellow board member, look them in the eye,” said Cole.

But he conceded that it was possible that changing ways of doing business and conducting government could change that.

The Board of Education is waiting for a cue from the city as to whether virtual meeting attendance might happen, spokeswoman Sharon Beadle said.

“We really come under the city when it comes to tech initiatives, so we are really waiting to see what happens with the meetings of the Board of Representatives,” Beadle said.

Health Commission administrative staff member Pamela Scott said that body had also begun looking into whether electronic attendance is feasible.

Other cities and states have looked into allowing it.

New Haven city law doesn’t have any provisions that allow for virtual voting or attendance, but none that prohibit it, either. That city has taken expert testimony from out of state electronically in the past, city officials said.

Bridgeport legislators have called in to committee meetings, according to spokesman Brett Broesder, but not to full board meetings, as far as he could immediately recall.

Around the country, some states forbid remote attendance outright, others allow it and some only have provisions that enforce electronic communications’ scrutiny under their respective freedom of information laws.

Connecticut FOI law makes reference to meetings of public entities, with a quorum, conducted via electronic equipment, and the statute does not forbid the practice.

“They don’t do it as a matter of course, but I think it helps some groups that have a quorum issue,” said Thomas Hennick, a public education officer for the FOI commission.

Hawaii and Idaho explicitly permitted public meetings by electronic communication, according to information compiled by the Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Minnesota and New Hampshire also clearly allow remote meetings of public bodies.

Several other states make it clear in their laws that electronic correspondence — not just electronic meetings — are subject to their various sunshine laws, but do not necessarily encourage electronic meetings, according to RCFP’s data.

At least two states, Oklahoma and Virginia, forbade the practice.

Hennick said that, in Connecticut, there have not been any specific complaints about electronic attendance, although he has fielded some calls asking if the practice is allowed.

“I haven’t seen it as an avoidance behavior — I see it as a way for people to have their meetings come through,” said Hennick. “There are some towns that don’t like that, and set their rules that say you have to be there.”

Stamford’s research into whether and how to allow it is still in its early stages, said Elise Coleman, who-chairs the Legislative and Rules Committee.; (203) 964-2263; @stunati0201

Failing An FOI Pop Quiz – The Newton Bee

Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act has been on the books for nearly 40 years. A couple of generations of public servants have been operating under its provisions. Yet after decades of illumination by the state’s Sunshine Laws, our elected and appointed representatives in government continue to wander into the shadows, where they stumble over provisions of the act that should be well known to everyone by now.

As a result of one such stumble late last year, a public education officer for the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) was in town September 29 to conduct a workshop for local officials, reminding them of their obligations under the law, and answering any questions they might have. While the law is lengthy with many provisions, it is perfectly clear on issues that seem to cause local boards and commissions the most trouble: giving proper notice of public meetings, including warnings and reasons for when those meetings will be closed for private discussion; and the narrow scope of topics suitable for discussion in these “executive sessions.”

The September 29 session was ordered by the FOIC in response to a citizen complaint about one such closed session involving four local boards considering the Sandy Hook School project on December 9, 2013. The published warning of the executive session was too vague, according to the commission. So after brushing up on their responsibilities for posting agendas and for keeping public discussions public on Monday last week, Newtown’s local officials should be able to avoid similar sloppy and incorrect applications of the law for some time to come. Right?

Fast forward 24 hours. The members of the Board of Education, three of whom, including the chairman, attended the FOIC workshop the previous evening, met on September 30 and convened an executive session that was not warned in their posted agenda for the meeting. Additionally, they closed the session ostensibly for “reflection” on standards set by the board for self-assessment – standards that were initially described and set for public discussion in the agenda for the special meeting. Note: this closed session was not for an evaluation of an employee nor apparently for the actual self-assessment of the school board, but for a reflection on the standards for board self-assessment. It was not a discussion of safety and security measures, it was a reflection on how school officials can better communicate about safety and security issues. These topics are clearly not covered in the FOI Act’s exemptions for executive sessions.

It is ironic that the apparent underlying theme of discussion in the school board’s closed session was better communication. The board’s awkward stumble from transparency to opacity was based on a sloppy interpretation of clear language in the Freedom of Information Act based on an inadvertent, or willful, misreading of the language in their own agenda. Each misstep was antithetical to better communication. It was a discussion that would have benefited the public to hear. Coming so close on the heels of the September 29 FOI workshop, it was the equivalent of taking a pop quiz right after a lesson — and failing. We only wish that the board members had paid closer attention to their FOI lessons and had taken greater care in educating themselves on the public’s right to know.