Thursday, October 02, 2008

Business booming for Connecticut FOI Commission

Business booming for FOI Commission

By Jeff Morganteen

Staff Writer

Article Launched: 09/30/2008 03:06:42 AM EDT

In December, when Fairfield First Selectman Ken Flatto removed the town Conservation Department from overseeing the largest development in town history, he did it behind closed doors.

In response, Kathryn Braun, a Fairfield attorney, helped draft a Freedom of Information complaint against the selectman for the Fairfield Friends of Open Space, a preservation group. She alleged the private meeting was illegal because it concerned matters meant for the public.

"We considered it a secret meeting in which government business was conducted," Braun said. "If you're going to change the structure of government, do it publicly."

Her complaint now is one of a record number before the state Freedom of Information Commission, which is hard-pressed to explain a cause for this year's increase.

The FOI Commission this year fielded an average of 72 complaints a month, a pace that could lead to its largest collection of grievances since it was founded in 1975. If the rate continues, it will receive 864 complaints this year, said Tom Hennick, public education officer for the commission. It already has fielded more than 800 complaints this year.

Last year, the commission handled 716 complaints.

"They keep coming in and it's hard to figure out why," Hennick said.

The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1975 to ensure public access to public records and meetings. It has been updated over the years to accommodate new issues and technological advances.

The 1975 act also established the FOI Commission, which evaluates public record compliance, hears complaints and issues rulings on disputes.

Colleen Murphy, executive director of the state FOI Commission and its general counsel, offered two reasons for the uptick.

First, more residents know about freedom of information laws and how to file a request or complaint for public records, Murphy said.

Second, Web users have flocked to the commission's Internet site to find advisory opinions and past decisions, she said. The Web site offers guidance on how and when to file a complaint, she said.


Full Article:>