“The legislature finds and declares that secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy, that the people have a right to be fully informed of the action taken by public agencies in order that they may retain control over the instruments they have created; ... that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know.”
— From the preamble to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
Connecticut has been a leader in open government, although not every state administration has been enthusiastic about enforcing our Freedom of Information Act. The Malloy administration, in particular, has seemed bent on weakening open government by repeatedly trying to bring the Freedom of Information Commission under the governor’s control. At the same time, a state’s attorney for months flagrantly defied a directive of the commission concerning records from last year’s Sandy Hook massacre, so it might even be said that the present culture in Hartford encourages the violation of a law that has stood this state in good stead since 1975.
And now this: In the latest violation of at least the spirit — and arguably also the letter — of the Freedom of Information Act, the folks who run our state colleges and universities are refusing to tell their employers — us taxpayers — where some of our money is going. Lots of top administrators at the Board of Regents for Higher Education will be getting nice raises right after Christmas, but it turns out that we are not allowed to know who, and how much, because that information is secret.
At least that’s what reporters from The Connecticut Mirror were told when they asked about the raises of up to 6.5 percent (a 3 percent cost-of-living hike plus merit raises of up to 3.5 percent) that are about to be handed out to 279 top administrators. And here’s the explanation of why it’s secret: because those folks’ present salaries can be found on a state website; and that means we could look at a person’s raise and calculate what the percentage is, and that would reveal what kind of job evaluation that person got; and job evaluations are not public information.
But what difference does that make, when the FOIC has ruled for years that the compensation of public employees is public information?
So the reasoning behind the secrecy here is not only abstruse; it’s deliberately obstructive. Here’s a quote — from an administrator whose job must be to do damage control — and it’s a beaut:
“We do it (give out raises) based on two things: our ongoing policy process and also the regard and appreciation that we have for the men and women managers and confidential employees [administrators] who are vital to the work of our system on behalf of the students in our state.”
In other words, it’s all for the kids. No wonder public relations people are called flaks.
This is not to say that the employees in question aren’t deserving; only that we’re talking about a lot of money here. And that when you feed at the public trough, the public has a right to know how much you’re eating.