The state Supreme Court in 1980 set a “functional equivalence” test to determine whether entities meet the definition of a public agency under Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
This test was first used to establish that the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees, the plaintiff in a case seeking access to its financial records, was a public agency, and the standard has been since used to secure access to an array of documents maintained by Connecticut’s 13 quasi public agencies.
So I was somewhat stumped when Michael Freimuth, executive director of the Connecticut Regional Development Authority, told the Hartford Courant recently that he was “somewhat stumped” that access to checkbook-level information on expenditures “became a hot topic so suddenly.”
CRDA is one of three quasi public agencies that still has not cooperated with Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s request that they voluntarily supply the information so that residents can access it through the OpenConnecticut portal.
In a recent letter, Lembo asked for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s support in getting the CRDA, the Connecticut Port Authority and the Connecticut Housing Financing Authority to cooperate.
Those three authorities should cooperate, as the other 10 quasi public agencies have already done. More to the point, cooperation should become policy so that it is not subject to the whims of future boards of directors or executives.
The public has a right to review this financial information, as the state Supreme Court ruled in the Woodstock Academy case. The public also has a interest in seeing financial records from quasi public agencies, which are created by public act to help serve a public interest and typically with some assistance via public dollars.
■The Port Authority, according to its most recently available audit, received $519,566 in state aid in fiscal year 2017. The authority is tasked with coordinating development around Connecticut’s ports, including the State Pier in New London.
■The CRDA received a combined $6.3 million last fiscal year, according to its audit. Its objective is to bring economic development to the Hartford area, and it oversees the daily operations at the Connecticut Science and Convention centers, the XL Center, and Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. The Tennis Foundation of Connecticut is also part of the CRDA, meaning the authority is responsible for the annual Connecticut Open tennis tournament.
■CHFA, as it states on its website, was created to “alleviate the shortage of housing for low- to moderate-income families” and, sometimes, to maintain economic development. The authority is currently self-funded, issuing its own bonds, but it had spent $192.8 million on operations in 2017, according to its audit.
Quasi public agencies that have cooperated, meanwhile, include the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, Connecticut Airport Authority, and Connecticut Innovations Inc., among others.
U.S. PIRG gave Connecticut a C-plus grade for residents’ ability to access budget information online in 2013. Since that time, OpenConnecticut has been the main reason Connecticut’s rating jumped to an A-minus in U.S. PIRG’s 2018 report, tying with Arizona for fifth place nationally.
Connecticut should be proud of such a high mark. It should also look to build from the achievement by expanding transparency.
The governor seemed to think so a few years ago, when he issued an executive order that set standards for data compiled by state agencies.
The legislature’s creation of a Data Analysis Technology Board this year also seems to show lawmakers’ agreement.
Lembo has been pushing for more detailed information from quasi public agencies since 2016, and it’s something the Supreme Court has allowed since 1980.
It’s time that all quasi public agencies provide the same level of budget information for the public to view. Better yet, it’s time policy requires that they do so.
Mike Savino is president of the Connecticut Council for Freedom of Information. He is also local and state news editor for the Record-Journal.
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