The public’s right to know is something all Americans should feel protective about – it’s one of the fundamentals that separates us as a society worth preserving. As such, it should be at the forefront of thinking when it comes to government operations. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and people who ought to know better neglect what is an essential responsibility.
That’s what happened in late June when Meriden’s School Readiness Council cut more than $500,0000 in funding from city daycare programs. The action created heartache for those who depend on those programs, and it was indefensible that the action was taken in secret.
The Record-Journal complained about it to the Freedom of Information Commission, contending that the council failed to meet the requirements of a public agency by not notifying the public of the meeting in advance or producing a record of votes for the June 20 meeting.
Just recently, a preliminary decision by an FOI hearing officer agreed with the newspaper, saying the commission violated state transparency laws dating back several years. Also recommended was that commission members complete training on FOI compliance.
City Manager Tim Coon recently called it a “no-brainer.” “We’ll comply and complete the training,” he said.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but city residents, who place their trust in public officials, should be outraged that members of the council did not already know better. The council of 15 has two chairmen, Mayor Kevin Scarpati and School Superintendent Mark Benigni, a former Meriden mayor, who deal with the public’s right to know on a routine basis.
The public had a right to know no matter what action was taken, but in this particular case transparency was more important than ever. The council on June 20 voted to cut $553,288 in funding for 62 School Readiness daycare spaces in the Woman and Families Center’s School Readiness Program, a decision that, as the Record-Journal reported, “effectively laid of WFC Director of Childcare Karen Yorker and 10 teachers at the facility.” A public vote to cut funding was taken at an Aug. 20 meeting that lasted 12 minutes.
The FOI Commission is expected to vote on Jan 9 to determine whether to adopt the draft decision, but Meriden need not wait for such formality. Members of the council need complete training on FOI compliance.