As CT Legislature
Looks To Dismember
Public's Right To Know
I hope the committee is truly used to educate employees about the proper and timely release of information and not used as a hurdle for citizens to jump before receiving a public record ... municipalities pay through the teeth for a town attorney to render an opinion that is usually not necessary. The default rule should be this, when in doubt; give it out.
By MATTHEW REED
Editor's Note: The writer is an attorney and chief of police for South Windsor, CT. Chief Reed recently spoke at the RC Newsroom Cafe in Torrington, CT about his experiences obtaining and releasing public records.
Time after time I hear of municipal officials working to squash the rights of our citizens when asked for access to a public document. The frustration mounts year after year.
On March 15, 2011, I read about the nearby town of Vernon and its contemplation of forming a Freedom of Information advisory committee. I think it prudent that a municipality educate its employees regarding the release of documents under our state’s freedom of information act. Such an advisory board is authorized by statute and encouraged by the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.
Kudos to the town of Vernon for contemplating the formation of this committee. I hope the committee is truly used to educate employees about the proper and timely release of information and not used as a hurdle for citizens to jump before receiving a public record.
Connecticut’s statute requires citizens be granted “prompt” access to public records. Let’s face it: The freedom of information act is quite simple.
The act states that the records contained within a public agency are public records and every person shall have the right to inspect or receive a copy of them. The act describes certain records that may be withheld in limited circumstances. However, the act is not intended to serve as a shield to disclosure. The official denying the request has to justify the withholding of the record for some bona fide reason. The point behind the freedom of information act is to ensure that public officials do not withhold public records from the rightful inspection of our citizens.
Too often you read or hear of a story in which a public official withholds public information out of fear of some consequence political or otherwise. Or you hear that the official has forwarded the request to the town attorney for an opinion. As a result, municipalities pay through the teeth for a town attorney to render an opinion that is usually not necessary. The default rule should be this, when in doubt; give it out.
I recall an incident several years ago when I called the finance department of a neighboring town to find out the salary of the police chief. The employee who answered the phone hesitated, told me that a certain supervisor was not in and she didn’t think she was authorized to give out the information. Even after I told her I was a police official from a nearby town she still would not give me the information. I was flabbergasted. This is just a lack of education.
Municipal leaders need to do a better job at adopting the attitude that the information contained within the files of a public agency are just that; public.