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Wallingford Town Council mulls open government laws

Wallingford Town Council mulls open government laws

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WALLINGFORD — Several Town Council members clashed with Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. last week during a discussion on whether to require the Town Clerk’s office to post meeting agendas and minutes of town boards and commissions on the town website.

The discussion took place during the Town Council ordinance committee meeting Sept. 3. While several councilors expressed interest in the matter, citing open government and transparency, Dickinson generally was not in favor of posting agendas and, in particular, minutes online.

He said there’s no great demand from the public for copies of minutes. It would be an administrative burden on the Town Clerk’s office and an additional expense for the town.

“When we spend money, it should be for an identified need,” he said. “All the information we’re talking about is available. We’re talking about whether it should be more available, or available in a certain way that one person likes and another person doesn’t like. To a certain extent, it’s gilding the lily. But it does cost money.”

While it would be convenient for the public to view Wallingford’s meeting agendas and minutes online, it’s not a violation of the state Freedom of Information Act if the town doesn’t offer the material on its website.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, cities, towns and school districts are exempt from a rule that requires public agencies to post meeting agenda and minutes online, if a website exists.

Tom Hennick, FOIC public education officer, said Tuesday that the only items towns must post online are special meeting notices and agendas.

“Anything else is a bonus,” he said. “We encourage it … but if not, they’re not violating FOI.”

Town boards and commissions must turn in meeting agendas to the Town Clerk 24 hours before the meeting. Votes must be turned in within 48 hours and minutes within seven days.

Once the Town Clerk’s office receives it, whether it’s a paper copy or electronic document, it’s up to an employee to post it online.

Craig Fishbein said Tuesday that ultimately no ordinance was proposed. The councilors concluded, he said, that they didn’t have that power administratively, and an ordinance would be ineffective given the limited power of the Town Council in a strong mayor system.

Hit or miss

Meeting agendas and minutes have a dedicated page on the town website, but which documents are available varies by board or commission. 

The Parks and Recreation Commission hasn’t posted anything on the town website since September 2013.

The Board of Education posts its meeting agendas and minutes on the Wallingford Public Schools website.

When asked by councilors, Dickinson said he didn’t have cost estimates for what it would take to get the documents online, but rather was making his statements based on what Town Clerk’s office employees have told him about their workload.

Fishbein said posting the documents online would address “the reliance aspect.”

“I think everything should be on the website,” he said. “When the public goes to the website … it should be there.”

Councilor Gina Morgenstein said that people may not be asking to see minutes because they don’t know the committees exist.

“The value of that is there are people that might want to be involved (in committees) if they knew they existed,” she said.

Dickinson referenced the proposed $6 million renovation of Community Pool, asking how many people have requested the minutes of the Parks and Recreation department’s pool committee.

Ordinance Committee Chairman Christopher Shortell said that “even if it’s zero, I still think it’s still the right thing to do.”
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