STAMFORD — The head of the city’s Republican Party has withdrawn a freedom of information complaint against lawmakers on the condition that their leaders undergo training for open meetings and records.
The city opted to have officials from the Freedom of Information Commission train lawmakers and city employees on open records law. In exchange, Eva Maldonado, who chairs the Republican Town Committee, agreed to withdraw her complaint to the commission that Democrats on the Board of Representatives had violated the state’s sunshine statutes by inviting Mayor David Martin to speak to them on a proposal to bring off-track betting into a downtown restaurant.
At the June 2014 meeting, the board had split into party caucuses to discuss the OTB proposal, which subsequently sailed through the approval process. Caucus meetings are exempt from disclosure laws — but not if outside parties contribute to the meeting.
“When I realized that the mayor was going to address the group, I said, `It’s got to be an open meeting, the door’s got to remain open, we’ve got to notify people that it’s happening,” said Rep. Randall Skigen, D-19, the president of the board. “I know that the press was notified, the Republican caucus was notified. I believe, but I don’t know, that the people who were in the audiences were notified.”
Whether that meeting, however it should be called, required a public notice and recorded minutes remains unclear. But with Maldonado’s withdrawal of her complaint, the point is moot, at least as far as the commission is concerned.
“If you’re not a member of the caucus, you cannot go in. Mayor Martin violated that and also John Mallozzi,” Maldonado told the Advocate.
Mallozzi is Maldonado’s Democratic counterpart. He joined Martin in the room, the doors to which were open, with the Democrats and members of the press.
“If he had wanted to say something in reference to the matter at hand he should’ve done it to the press or the body, not going into the room,” said Maldonado.
Asked why the board did not invite the mayor to address the entire membership, Skigen said, “I think in hindsight that’s probably what we would’ve done.”
Some chief executives in the state sit as ex officio members of their cities’ council. Stamford does not operate under that formula, though the mayor may call special meetings of the board.
Speaking before the board’s Steering Committee, which sets agendas for other committees, Martin acknowledged that members of the minority caucus were right to feel left out, but scoffed at the notions that he had tried to force through the OTB proposal or that he had been under duress to do so.
“We did not bend any arms, we did not make any promises and we did not receive any threats. My involvement was entirely at the request of some members of this board who asked me to come down and tell them what we thought, and that’s what we did,” said Martin.
Thomas Dec, a spokesman for Martin, told The Advocate that the boards, commissions and administration had already made strides toward a more open government, expanding the use of video recordings for public meetings, hiring a freedom of information officer and undergoing training on open records law.
Thomas Hennick, a public education officer for the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, said he would lead training for city officials around mid-May.
Skigen said that, in the past, mayors and party chairs had sat in on caucus meetings, but after an FOI complaint by an Advocate reporter, the practice stopped.
“The Democratic caucus has also adopted rules subsequent to this that will ensure that this situation does not arise in the future,” said Skigen. “Basically, if we go into caucus as a group, we will not have anyone address that group other than members of the caucus.”
Asked if caucus members could read correspondence from non-members, he said it “hasn’t come up.”
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