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Area towns score well on FOI compliance test

Area towns score well on FOI compliance test

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Area municipalities scored well during a Freedom of Information compliance test last month.

News outlets sent requests under state disclosure laws to towns and cities early last month. The requests included school district information, top employees’ pay and letters of discipline.

Meriden area towns mostly responded promptly to the requests. The project was timed with Sunshine Week, a media focus on transparency.

Of the 11 municipalities asked to provide a list of the top ten municipal taxpayers, only North Haven denied the request. State FOI law doesn’t require towns to create documents in response to a request and North Haven officials cited that exemption to disclosure laws.

In response to a request for a list of school staffing and enrollment, many districts referred the Record-Journal to the information published online.

Some towns denied portions of the request. Berlin didn’t provide letters of discipline for public works employees, citing a state FOI exemption for the invasion of privacy. Other towns did provide letters if they existed.

Berlin Town Manager Jack Healy said the town’s policy is not to release letters of discipline for town employees.

Freedom of Information Commission Public Education Officer Tom Hennick said there are exemptions to disclosure laws for medical information and privacy, but that letters of discipline are public documents.

“There’s no blanket exemption for letters of discipline,” he said.

Plainville school district provided superintendent Maureen Brummett’s contract as requested but blacked out her name from the document. Upon request, the district furnished an unredacted copy and officials said they weren’t sure how or why a redacted version was sent.

Hennick said redacting the name of an employee on a public contract was “not a good idea.”

Wallingford hadn’t responded to the request for top earners as of Friday.

Plainville Town Manager Robert Lee said employees are familiar with FOI law and requests.

“Pretty much everything is public,” he said, including discipline reports. “Whether we like it or not, it’s subject to FOI.”

Lee said the town provides documents and information readily even without a formal request. Whenever information is requested, town employees try to get it out quickly.

“We strive to do that,” Lee said. “I think we’re successful most of the time.”

Kevin Maloney, spokesman for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the group offers FOI workshops and training for town officials in understanding state disclosure laws.

“It is critical for municipal leaders to understand and be responsive to the Freedom of Information Act,” Maloney said. “(Area) towns present a model for other communities to follow.”

Media outlets throughout the state took part in the FOI project.

"The purpose of Sunshine Week is to highlight the disclosure laws that allow the news media and public at large to monitor government and keep public officials accountable,” said Mike Savino, Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information president and a Record-Journal editor. “Transparency is crucial to a healthy and vibrant democracy, and we're glad to see local officials largely complied with state FOI laws in a timely manner." 

Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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