University spending: UConn’s image further battered – Republican American

09/19/16 – Editorial

State Auditors Robert M. Ward and John C. Geragosian have released an unsettling report about the University of Connecticut. This episode stands to hurt UConn’s already-battered image and possibly cause more financial pain for students’ families. Connecticut policymakers should take note. [Read More]

OP-ED | Shine a Light on Connecticut –

3/14/16 – By Susan Bigelow

There’s no disinfectant like a little sunlight, as the saying goes, and that seems truer than ever in our age where there’s ever more information but also a growing tendency of government to keep information out of public hands. That worrisome trend must be reversed if we’re ever going to get the open, accountable government that we deserve. [Read More]

Editorial: University’s secret budget – Waterbury Republican-American

In late June, the University of Connecticut board of trustees caused an uproar when it approved a spend-heavy 2015-16 budget without public discussion, and after only 90 minutes of closed-door review by the board’s finance committee. James H. Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, encapsulated the frustration when he told the Connecticut Mirror, “To discuss the budget of the state’s premier public university in executive session is outrageous. They should be discussing their budget in public. … The taxpayers pay for the university. Why are they hiding how they want to spend money?”

The Hartford Courant contacted 20 of the 21 trustees to ask them whether they believe, in retrospect, the budget process should have been more open. Only four trustees spoke in detail, and only one, Louise Bailey, said there should have been more transparency. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the board’s ex officio president, declined to comment.

That few trustees are willing to defend the process is cause for suspicion. For the sake of taxpayers, [Read More]

Editorial: UConn budget should not be crafted behind closed doors – Meridian Record Journal

When the late Gov. Ella T. Grasso signed Connecticut’s landmark Freedom of Information Act into law in 1975, the letter — and the spirit — of that piece of legislation were very clear: We would have open government in this state, as open as we could reasonably demand, with very few exceptions, all of them clearly spelled out.

Article 1 declared that the new law would apply to any “public agency,” defined as “Any executive, administrative or legislative office of the state or any political subdivision of the state and any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state or of any city, town, borough, municipal corporation, school district, regional district or other district or other political subdivision of the state, including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official …” and on and on.

Article 2 defined a “meeting” of such an agency, department, institution, etc. etc., as being in the purview of the new law.

Article 6 allowed for a few exceptions to the law — but only as may concern personnel actions, pending litigation, security, real estate acquisitions and almost nothing else.

Unless we’re missing something, this would mean, for example, that if there were a tiny town called Hicksville, Conn., and if that town had a dog catcher, the dog catcher’s budget, [Read More]

Editorial: Force UConn to keep budget debate open – The Day

Any organization doing the public’s business, which is another way of saying spending the public’s money, should understand and appreciate the need to keep the public informed about how its business is being conducted and its money is being spent.

This view is apparently not shared by the University of Connecticut and its governing body. On June 24, the university’s board of trustees adopted a nearly $1.3 billion budget for the next fiscal year, increasing spending in troubled economic times by $103.7 million or nearly 9 percent. It’s worth reminding you that $400 million will come from the state, while much of the rest must be supplied through tuition paid by debt-laden Connecticut students and their families.

So one would think there would be a public interest in how the board came to approve such a big spending increase.

Yet this budget was discussed, amended and finalized behind closed doors during a 5½-hour executive session of the board’s Financial Affairs Committee in May. That was followed by a 90-minute review by the board — also behind closed doors — and the formal adoption in a public meeting that had no public discussion. A UConn spokeswoman points out the budget, [Read More]

Did UCONN’s “Behind Closed Doors” Budget Discussion Violate The Freedom Of Information Act? – Appealingly Brief

By Dan Klau

Answer: Yes.

Explanation:  Without a single word of discussion, the UCONN board of trustees recently voted to adopt a $1.3 billion budget for the upcoming year.  How is it possible to adopt a budget of that magnitude without any public discussion? According to UCONN, by having the discussion behind closed doors before the formal vote in public session.

Is that permissible under the state Freedom of Information Act?  UCONN’s general counsel says it is.  He says that the FOIA allows public agencies to meet behind closed doors (i.e., in executive session) if the subject of a discussion is a draft budget document AND the agency determines that public interest is better served by keeping the draft private.

I disagree.  I think UCONN’s interpretation of the FOIA is unreasonable and illogical.

Here is what the FOIA says.  One provision, General Statutes section 1-210(b)(1), says that a public agency need not disclose “Preliminary drafts or notes provided the public agency has determined that the public interest in withholding such documents clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”  (My emphasis.)  Another provision, section 1-210(6)(b), says that a public agency may go into executive session for the “discussion of any matter which would result in the disclosure of public records or the information contained therein described in [section 1-210(b)].”

Essentially, UCONN’s position is that any budget document remains nothing more than a preliminary draft until it is voted on in public session and, therefore, is exempt from disclosure under section 1-210(b)(1) as long as the board of trustee believes that the public interest in nondisclosure of the draft clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.  UCONN argues that if the draft budget document is exempt under section 1-210(b)(1), it follows that section 1-210(b)(6) allows the board to discuss the budget in executive session.

I strongly disagree with UCONN’s interpretation of the FOIA.  I flatly reject the proposition that there is a compelling public interest in non-disclosure of the budget document that is presented to members of the board of trustees for consideration.  To be sure, the development of a budget document occurs in many stages, and no doubt the document goes through many drafts before one is finally presented to the board of trustees for consideration and debate.  There are valid reasons why those early drafts need not be disclosed.  But once a budget document gets to the point that it is distributed to the board of trustees for debate, it is no longer a “preliminary draft.”  Further, it is certainly not a document about which one can say with a straight face that the public interest in non-disclosure clearly outweighs the interest in disclosure.

To conclude otherwise would be to transform one of the most important documents that any public entity like UCONN ever debates–its budget–into something that can always be debated and discussed in secret, with the agency coming to an actual decision about adopting the budget behind closed doors and only announcing its decision through a phony vote in public session.

That is not what the drafters of the FOIA intended, and the text of the FOIA cannot sustain such an unreasonable interpretation.

UConn trustees adopt $1.3 billion budget with no public discussion – The CT Mirror


The University of Connecticut’s governing board Wednesday adopted a nearly $1.3 billion budget for next fiscal year that increases the school’s spending by $103.7 million — almost 9 percent.

The UConn Board of Trustees adopted the budget without discussion in public and after reviewing it behind closed doors for 90 minutes. Last month, the university’s Financial Affairs Committee also met for 5 ½ hours in private to craft the budget.

“That’s how it’s always been done,” UConn President Susan Herbst told reporters after the vote when asked about the closed-door meetings. The governing board for the state’s other public college system — the Board of Regents — rarely meets in private and held public meetings over three days to discuss their budgets. The Regents system includes the four regional Connecticut State Universities, 12 community colleges and the online Charter Oak College.

The lawyer for UConn justified the trustees’ private meetings by pointing to state law that exempts drafts of public records and discussion of them from disclosure if an agency determines that the public interest is better served by withholding them.

“The budget is a draft until the Board acts on it,” said Richard F. Orr, the school’s general counsel. “UConn made the determination that the public interest in withholding outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

Open government advocates disagree.

“To discuss the budget of the state’s premier public university in executive session is outrageous,” said James H. Smith, the president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and longtime journalist at several daily newspapers in the state. “They should be discussing their budget in public. It is a public university. The taxpayers pay for the university. Why are they hiding how they want to spend their money?”

The university received $355.7 million from the state this fiscal year and is slated to receive almost $400 million in the fiscal year that begins next week.

Thomas Hennick, education officer with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, said state law gives public agencies a lot of leeway in determining what they consider a draft.

“One person’s draft is another person’s final copy,” said Hennick, whose state agency acts as a watchdog to determine whether public bodies are adhering to the state’s public disclosure laws. “Most budgets I see are put together in public.”

The university’s budget chief, Scott Jordan, said after the meeting that since so much of the university’s budget is spent on staffing, and cuts that are being considered so often could impact personnel, it’s appropriate for the board to discuss their options privately.

The adopted budget relies on having some faculty teach more courses and laying off 40 to 50 non-instructional staff.

Jordon gave a six-minute public presentation on the budget, followed by the trustees’ unanimous adoption without discussion.

“It would be easy to cut budgets across the board,” Jordan said in his presentation, “but that is not what we want to do. We want to move full speed ahead.”

The board separately adopted a $1 billion budget for the UConn Health Center, and also without public discussion.

To pay for the increased spending at the university, students who are Connecticut residents will have to pay $670 more to attend the university next year — a 5.2 percent increase — which will generate $34.4 million in revenue. Another $6 million will come from the tuition UConn will collect by enrolling 250 more students next school year.

The budget assumes UConn will maintain its current faculty levels.

“We will be hiring about as many faculty as will be leaving,” Mun Choi, the university’s provost, told reporters after the meeting.

When UConn officials approved a four-year tuition schedule that increases the cost to attend the school by nearly 30 percent, the school said it would use much of that additional revenue to hire 290 additional faculty so students could get the courses they need to graduate on time. Now heading into the last year of that schedule, UConn has added 177 faculty.

The state budget covers nearly half of UConn’s increased spending by providing the university with an additional $48 million next year, a 14 percent boost. While grateful, UConn President Susan Herbst told her Board of Trustees Wednesday it is still less than what was needed to continue offering existing programs and services.

“It could have been much worse,” Herbst said, referring to the governor’s initial budget proposal, which would have cut state support for the school. “We are relieved and grateful for every penny.”

Much of the university’s increased spending is outside its control, Jordan said after the meeting. The average 6 percent pay raises the school is obligated to give unionized employees will cost $59.8 million. The governor’s budget office negotiated that increase as part of a state employee concessions package that followed two years of wage freezes with three years of raises averaging 6 percent.

“We have no control of those costs, which has put a lot of pressure on us,” said Jordan.

Other increases include $4.2 million for financial aid for students, $4.1 million to hire the staff needed to accommodate the 250 additional students and $16.9 million for inflation on services such as dining and custodial services.