“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. …”
That’s from the preamble to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, which broke new ground in 1975 when it was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ella Grasso.
Lately, though, the idea of open government has been losing some ground here in the Constitution State.
First, there was language put into the state police contract last year that said that much information contained in the troopers’ personnel files or internal affairs investigations “shall not be subject to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.” Think of it: The language of a labor contract is able, in effect, to nullify a law that was passed by the legislature and signed by a previous governor.
Then, last summer, Gov. Ned Lamont worked with Greenwich billionaire Ray Dalio and his Dalio Philanthropies to create something called the Partnership for Connecticut, which would spend large amounts of private and taxpayer money to benefit the state’s schools but would be largely exempt from the state’s freedom-of-information law — under the theory that the new public-private entity is not really a “public agency.”
And now, we have the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, also created by Lamont, a panel of 47 people that will advise him on how to get the state safely out of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. Once again, Lamont doesn’t consider it a “public agency,” so it is free to work behind closed doors.
Published minutes? Meetings available on a website or a cable channel? Not necessary, says the governor. It’s just an “advisory” group.
“This council is charged with coming up with policies to revive our economy and restore the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people and their families,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said in a statement. “The body must be subject to the full scope of our Freedom of Information Act, starting with public meetings.”
“Hiding the information and decision-making process that inform the advisory group’s recommendations from those it affects most is insulting, counterproductive, and treats the people of Connecticut like subjects, rather than citizens,” Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, told Hearst Connecticut Media.
While Lamont is to be commended for taking a strong hand and offering clear leadership in this unprecedented medical and economic crisis, we agree with Klarides and Liebau that this is no time to draw a cloak of secrecy over what’s being done to get our state safely out of it.
This state’s historic progress in making government more transparent is under threat right now. Better to let the sun shine in.