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 Harford 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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
Sen. Osten entering the Hartford Club.

Residents file more than 100 FOI requests against Weston town govt., school board – Connecticut Post

By Kayla Mutchler

WESTON — At what point do requests for public information become harassment? That’s a question the state Freedom of Information Commission may have to decide between the school system and a local couple that have filed more than 100 Freedom of Information Act requests in the past few years. (Read More)

Your FOI is in our DNA – Editorial, The Day, New London

From The Day, New London

Commitment to the principle of Freedom of Information lies deep in the DNA of The Day. Throughout its history, the newspaper has championed the right to know – not just our right to know, but yours. No legal or constitutional distinction separates the rights of the public from those of the press as regards freedom of information. (Read More)

Port Authority documents reveal displeasure with media coverage – Connecticut Inside Investigator

By Tricia Ennie

Connecticut Port Authority (CPA) members have been unhappy with the tone of much of the press coverage of and public response to the ongoing New London State Pier project.
A review of hundreds of email conversations between staff members reveals they not only kept track of their media coverage but frequently believed it was inaccurate, biased, and unfair to the project and its stewards. These emails were obtained as part of a Freedom of Information Act request seeking answers to the project’s increasing price tag. (Read More)

Reforms bolster CT as leader in government records transparency, experts say – CT Post

by Joshua Eaton, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

During the final days of the General Assembly session, lawmakers voted to strengthen Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act — the law that entitles members of the public to access government records — for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Experts say the reforms, which Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law on Wednesday, further enhance Connecticut’s public records law, which has long been a model both within the U.S. and globally. (Read More)

FOI-limiting bill would give public universities carte blanche to operate in secret – CT Mirror

by David DesRoches

Should public universities be able to operate behind closed doors? That’s essentially what would happen if Senate Bill 1153 becomes law. In fact, the only information that would be provided to the taxpaying public would be budget-related.

We wouldn’t know, for example, if the university was improperly experimenting on animals — the very thing that Justin Goodman found in 2004 when he used Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to expose “wasteful and cruel experiments on monkeys.” If 1153 was law in 2004, Goodman wouldn’t have gotten the records he sought, and your tax dollars would likely still be going toward illegal animal experimentation. (Read More)

Bill Asks Local Officials To Be Both Seen and Heard – CT News Junkie

By Christine Stuart

Similar to what lawmakers have been trying to practice this session, some lawmakers want local boards and commission members to show their faces when talking and voting remotely.

The bill, which passed the Planning & Development Committee, last week would require boards of selectmen, city councils, boards of representatives, local and regional boards of education, zoning commissions and other local bodies to show their faces on Zoom when talking and voting. (Read More)

Editorial: FOI bill is Democrats against democracy – Waterbury Republican-American


When it comes to fights over public education – from removing pornography from school libraries to ensuring racial essentialism isn’t laundered into school curricula through “equity” initiatives – the actual question is whether publicly funded educational institutions should be subject to public control. In other words, it’s a question of whether American leaders value democracy.

This is true at the college level, too. Indeed, public colleges in Connecticut receive so much money that they’re apoplectic over Gov. Ned Lamont including nearly $900 million in his recent two-year budget proposal. That amount of money, college leaders and students say, is unacceptably low.

But despite the fact that these institutions would not exist without massive appropriations of public money, some state leaders don’t think public universities should be accountable to the public. (Read More)

House approves bill creating panel to study mandatory public comment periods – The Day, New London

By Brian Hallenbeck

May 5—Connecticut’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill this week that would establish a task force to study requiring public comment periods at meetings of all public agencies.

The bill will move to the Senate for consideration.

The measure originated in response to a policy in effect in Groton, where public comment is allowed during monthly Town Council meetings but not at twice-a-month meetings at which the council convenes as Committee of the Whole. (Read More)

Freedom of Information Under Threat in Connecticut –

By Connecticut Law Tribune Editorial Board

This started out as a great year for Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, but now it’s in trouble.

In February, investigative reporters at Hearst Media produced a powerful series detailing Bridgeport’s shocking record of non-compliance with FOIA requests. Bridgeport’s delinquency led to a chronic backlog of 2,000 pending cases, mostly due to its practice of funneling the vast majority of cases through a woefully understaffed city attorney’s office. (Read More)