Stamford GOP leader withdraws FOI complaint – Stamford Advocate

STAMFORD — The head of the city’s Republican Party has withdrawn a freedom of information complaint against lawmakers on the condition that their leaders undergo training for open meetings and records.

The city opted to have officials from the Freedom of Information Commission train lawmakers and city employees on open records law. In exchange, Eva Maldonado, who chairs the Republican Town Committee, agreed to withdraw her complaint to the commission that Democrats on the Board of Representatives had violated the state’s sunshine statutes by inviting Mayor David Martin to speak to them on a proposal to bring off-track betting into a downtown restaurant.

At the June 2014 meeting, the board had split into party caucuses to discuss the OTB proposal, which subsequently sailed through the approval process. Caucus meetings are exempt from disclosure laws — but not if outside parties contribute to the meeting.

“When I realized that the mayor was going to address the group, I said, `It’s got to be an open meeting, the door’s got to remain open, we’ve got to notify people that it’s happening,” said Rep. Randall Skigen, D-19, the president of the board. “I know that the press was notified, the Republican caucus was notified. I believe, but I don’t know, that the people who were in the audiences were notified.”

Whether that meeting, however it should be called, required a public notice and recorded minutes remains unclear. But with Maldonado’s withdrawal of her complaint, the point is moot, at least as far as the commission is concerned.

“If you’re not a member of the caucus, you cannot go in. Mayor Martin violated that and also John Mallozzi,” Maldonado told the Advocate.

Mallozzi is Maldonado’s Democratic counterpart. He joined Martin in the room, the doors to which were open, with the Democrats and members of the press.

“If he had wanted to say something in reference to the matter at hand he should’ve done it to the press or the body, not going into the room,” said Maldonado.

Asked why the board did not invite the mayor to address the entire membership, Skigen said, “I think in hindsight that’s probably what we would’ve done.”

Some chief executives in the state sit as ex officio members of their cities’ council. Stamford does not operate under that formula, though the mayor may call special meetings of the board.

Speaking before the board’s Steering Committee, which sets agendas for other committees, Martin acknowledged that members of the minority caucus were right to feel left out, but scoffed at the notions that he had tried to force through the OTB proposal or that he had been under duress to do so.

“We did not bend any arms, we did not make any promises and we did not receive any threats. My involvement was entirely at the request of some members of this board who asked me to come down and tell them what we thought, and that’s what we did,” said Martin.

Thomas Dec, a spokesman for Martin, told The Advocate that the boards, commissions and administration had already made strides toward a more open government, expanding the use of video recordings for public meetings, hiring a freedom of information officer and undergoing training on open records law.

Thomas Hennick, a public education officer for the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, said he would lead training for city officials around mid-May.

Skigen said that, in the past, mayors and party chairs had sat in on caucus meetings, but after an FOI complaint by an Advocate reporter, the practice stopped.

“The Democratic caucus has also adopted rules subsequent to this that will ensure that this situation does not arise in the future,” said Skigen. “Basically, if we go into caucus as a group, we will not have anyone address that group other than members of the caucus.”

Asked if caucus members could read correspondence from non-members, he said it “hasn’t come up.”; 203-964-2263; @stunati0201 on Twitter

FOI commission to make decision soon on Wallingford Center Inc. complaint –

By Eric Vo Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — The state Freedom of Information Commission is expected to decide whether Wallingford Center Inc. is a public entity — and therefore covered by the Freedom of Information Act — within the next month and a half.

Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein filed a complaint with the commission in April 2014. It details why he believes Wallingford Center Inc. is a public entity and should make meeting minutes, agendas, and other documents public. Fishbein filed the complaint after WCI denied his request for meeting minutes and agendas. The organization receives $78,000 in annual funding from the town.

The commission’s public education officer, Tom Hennick, said Friday that he expects the commission to reach a decision by mid-March or early April.

“The complaint was submitted to us on the 28th of April last year and it expires on the 27th of April this year,” Hennick said.

WCI is a “private, non-profit organization whose purpose is the beautification, preservation, promotion and economic revitalization of Wallingford’s center for the benefit of all the people of Wallingford,” according to its website.

WCI President Steve Lazarus did not attend the hearing and referred questions to Richard Gee, a lawyer representing the organization. Gee did not return a call for comment.

In Fishbein’s post-hearing brief, he says WCI performs activities that were handled by town government committees in the past and that a majority of its funding is provided by the town.

In Gee’s post-hearing brief, he writes that while Fishbein’s evidence mentions services provided by the town’s Public Works Department, “he fails utterly to show that the Town government is involved in controlling, supervising or in any way regulating the actions of WCI.”

“Funding alone, without control, is not enough,” Gee wrote. “WCI is a privately incorporated organization comprised of private citizens working to improve the downtown Wallingford, an area comprised of private businesses and property owners.”

Gee adds that WCI “may be an ally of Town Government, but it is not an authority of the Town Government.”

While both parties wait for the commission to make its decision, legal maneuvers continue. Fishbein filed a motion Thursday to strike WCI and Gee’s post-hearing brief, saying it included a document that was never offered into evidence.

“In this case, the respondents chose to attach to their brief, and reference in their argument, a document … that was never entered into evidence in this matter, nor ever proffered,” Fishbein wrote in his motion. “Said document is (at the very least) un-authenticated, hearsay, without foundation, and contains unsubstantiated expert and/or legal conclusions.”

The document in question is a November 2014 letter to Fishbein from Corporation Counsel Janis Small. In the letter, Small explains that the town’s Legal Department has not provided legal advice to WCI or worked with the organization.

The hearing officer allowed the document to be stricken from the record, but not Gee’s post-hearing brief, Fishbein said.

After the hearing, Gee also objected to Fishbein’s submission of a 19-minute video as evidence. The video contained seven clips from Town Council meetings when WCI officials appeared before councilors. WCI and Gee objected to the video, contending that it didn’t provide an accurate portrayal of the organization and that the clips were edited to Fishbein’s favor.

The hearing officer ultimately overruled the objection and allowed Fishbein’s video to be admitted as evidence.

In a phone interview Friday, Fishbein declined to comment on specifics of the hearing because he and WCI are awaiting the commission’s decision. He emphasized, however, that the complaint against WCI is not a challenge to the organization’s performance in town.

“This matter is not whether or not WCI does a good job,” he said. “Rather, it’s about an open and transparent use of public funds. In my opinion, taxpayers are entitled to know the who, what and why of the use of their money.” (203) 317-2235 Twitter: @EricVoRJ