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Council Rejects Forming FOI Panel, Prefers Direct Contact



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Absent the Legislative Council member who suggested the idea, Councilman Ryan Knapp's colleagues rejected forming a proposed freedom of information advisory board, reserving the opportunity to revisit the subject at a future date if necessary.a recent Newtown Bee editorial, and in light of apparent issues with at least one town board understanding the state FOI statutes and how they apply to local government processes.

Mr Knapp requested the council consider forming such a panel after it was suggested in

The discussion occurred at a May 18 council meeting while Mr Knapp was traveling out of state.

In the end, his fellow council members voted 10-1 against sending the proposal to the council's Ordinance Committee for further study, with George Ferguson supporting the motion.

Most of the council members weighing in on the subject stated that Connecticut's Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) and its public education officer Tom Hennick are so available and responsive to direct questions from local officials, that directing any FOI concerns first through a local board would prolong the process, and ultimately result in the board contacting the commission regardless.

Council member Judit DeStefano even suggested having a local intermediary might further deter local elected and appointed officials from learning the required basic aspects of state sunshine laws.

Connecticut was the first state in the nation to enact freedom of information statutes, under Governor Ella Grasso in 1975.

Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob said she often contacts Mr Hennick or other representatives of the state FOIC.

"I seek the guidance of the commission or Mr Hennick regarding questions of process, agendas and other matters to be sure I'm not in violation," Ms Jacob said, adding that Mr Knapp's proposal "creates an intermediary [to go to] when I need a quick turnaround on questions."

She suggested that with a local FOI board in place, it could take a lot of time to process any questions.

Councilman Neil Chaudhary said that any questions he has posed to the FOIC has generated results, "incredibly quickly - within hours."

"I feel [this proposal] would add a layer of bureaucracy," Mr Chaudhary said.

First Selectman Pat Llodra said that town attorneys often contact the FOIC to clarify specific aspects of the state statutes, and noted that the submission of a local query to an intermediary board would necessitate posting an FOI required agenda, and filing of minutes which would reveal any related questions being asked ahead of engaging related subject matter in other venues.

"It's really complicated to go in that direction," Mrs Llodra said.

Mr Ferguson said he would rather see a local regulation compelling elected and appointed officials to undergo FOI training as a condition of accepting a local public office, which might be particularly helpful for panels that meet infrequently.

Ms Jacob countered that the council may not have the authority to compel other officials to study the FOI statutes, but there is support at the state level if questions arise.

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