New Canaan resident files FOI request against Charter Revision Commission
Published 11:05 am, Friday, September 23, 2016
NEW CANAAN — It’s about protecting the sanctity of the Town Charter, town resident Roger Williams said.
It is for that reason that Williams filed a request under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act in May that the Charter Revision Commission release all information from more than 90 interviews conducted by the commission with past and present town officials.
“The charter is the town’s constitution. You don’t make changes to the constitution or recommend changes based upon activities in smoke filled back rooms,” Williams said. “This should be out in the bright sunlight of a noon day so that the members of the public have access to all information.”
Five proposed charter changes are expected to appear this November on the town’s ballot, including one measure that will determine whether or not the first selectman should remain the chairman of the Board of Finance. First Selectman Rob Mallozzi has expressed publicly that he wishes to maintain the title of finance chairman, but there has been much debate on the subject.
Williams said he felt compelled to file the request after Penny Young, a member of the Town Council and the Charter Revision Commission, made public statements to the press in the spring that during interviews not all acting members of the Board of Finance said the first selectman should remain the board’s chairman.
However, publicly all members of the Board of Finance stated they wished Mallozzi would retain the position, raising questions in Williams’ head.
“Mrs. Young alluded to pressure from the First Selectman as to why they would change their story,” Williams said. “It’s very important that there be full disclosure as to who said what.”
A full list of names of interviewees has been made available by the commission, as has the text of each interview, though the names are redacted. The commission told those being interviewed at the time their statements would be kept confidential.
According to Williams, a Freedom of Information Act hearing is expected this fall, though a date has not yet been set, in which Charter Revision Commission Chairman David Hunt and Young, represented by Town Attorney Ira Bloom, will be asked to explain why the withholding of information is not in discordance with FOI law.
Hunt declined to comment on the pending hearing, saying “We will address it, but it’s not something we’re going to address to the press.” Young echoed Hunt’s statement, citing the sensitivity of the matter leading up to the hearing
A decision on the case, however, is not expected until after the November election. As a result, Williams has requested that the case be expedited so the information could be available before the public is asked to vote or, alternately, that the vote be delayed.
“My understanding is that there is no reason to put the charter referendum on November’s ballot. The regulations require that it be put on a ballot no later than 15 months after the charter review has issued their report to the town council,” Williams said. Since the final draft of the revised charter was submitted in July 2016, by Williams’ math, the referendum could take place as late as October 2017.
Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert said that, while he has not read that particular law in some time, he believes Williams’ assertion about the ability to delay the referendum to be true.
Williams remains confident that by keeping the information from the public, the commission has overstepped its bounds. Bloom also declined to comment on in the lead up to the legal proceedings.
“They are a public commission. They are a commission of the Town Council. Their meetings and activities fall under the FOI act with regard to what can be done in executive session. The act does not permit them to withhold information from the public,” Williams said.