In the normal functioning of municipal government in a democracy, transparency is considered a virtue. And, by law, information can be withheld from the public only in a few, clearly defined situations.
At least that’s how it is in Connecticut, where we passed our groundbreaking Freedom of Information Act in 1975.
Unfortunately, by finally rejecting a complaint originally filed by the Record-Journal in 2016 — concerning the Meriden City Council’s practice of meeting in advance to hash out an issue, with just shy of a quorum in attendance, and then enacting that decision without discussion at a regular meeting — the Connecticut Supreme Court has now set open government back in this state.
The residents of Meriden, or any other city or town in Connecticut, may attend a scheduled meeting of the local council, expecting that certain important issues and plans will be discussed and voted upon after an opportunity for public input.
Instead, after parsing the meanings of terms such as “meeting,” “caucus,” and “public agency,” the court is saying that those issues need only be voted upon in public, with the understanding that key decisions may already have been made — behind closed doors.
This newspaper filed its complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission after council majority and minority leaders met privately with the retiring city manager and the mayor in January 2016 to work out in detail the makeup of the search committee and the process for hiring the next city manager.
This is not the
transparency that Mayor Kevin Scarpati recently said “is a key cornerstone” of governance in Meriden. This is not the way to “build relationships and communicate thoroughly with the members of our community in all aspects of government.”
We are not at all happy to see that the Supreme Court agrees with this highly impaired “vision for collaboration.”
This is not the way open government should work.
Let us not forget what the General Assembly declared when — after years of effort by people including former Gov. Ella T. Grasso and former Record-Journal Publisher Carter H. White — it enacted the Freedom of Information Act:
“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 ... that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know ...”