Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information
Minutes, Dec, 14, 2016
The meeting was held in the conference room of the law offices of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, LLP.
Present: Dan Klau, John Bailey, Zach Janowski, Paula Pearlman, Mitch Pearlman, Michele Jacklin, Mike Savino, Gary Gold, George Lombardi, Dana Whalen.
Vice-President Zach Janowski opened the meeting, and President Dan Klau picked up
The minutes of the November 16, 2016 meeting were accepted.
Treasurer’s report: George Lombardi reports the balance on hand as of 12-13-16 is $9.048.34. The only recent expense has been a $360 fee for web design, with a lobbying fee of $2,658.75 due by the end of the year.
After the treasurer’s report, those on hand gave some thought to dues. President Dan Klau said he has been working his way through the hierarchy at Hearst in hopes of arranging their return as dues-paying members. He also announced that an on-line “Donate” button is being added to the web page, in hopes of eliciting public funds. There is no fixed charge for this addition; a small percentage of the PayPal or credit card fee from each donor goes to the vendor. It was decided that dues letters for Fiscal 2017 will go out in January.
Legislative report: John Bailey reported letters will be going out to members of the General Assembly who signed the FOI pledge, congratulating them and offering to work with them on FOI issues. Every legislator will receive a more general FOI letter as well. Bailey encouraged all members to reach out to their own legislators, to get acquainted, and underline the FOI message. He says his firm is developing a spreadsheet with members’ home addresses and e-mails, to identify which legislators represent CCFOI members as part of the relationship/outreach effort.
He says this will be a difficult legislative session, with a tight budget and hard decisions. There still are no committee chairmen, following the November election which left the State Senate evenly divided. Bailey says some members favor a traditional party caucus leadership arrangement, while others are more open to power sharing between the parties. The picture may be somewhat complicated by Senate President Martin Looney’s upcoming surgery, though he and his staff say he will be on hand in time for the opening day of the session, Jan. 4.
Bailey says with the state budget as tight as it is at present, he expects this session will be more like a short session, with fewer bills and more emphasis on revenue and spending. He says the CCFOI posture will need to be defensive and educational, with an emphasis on developing relationships and keeping an eye out for bills to respond to. He says keeping the integrity of the three watchdog groups will be a main concern, making sure they retain the ability to perform their statutory obligations. One other effort will be continued support for the Anti-SLAPP Coalition, opposing strategic lawsuits against public participation.
CCFOI efforts this legislative session are expected to include helping hold the line on the previously-reduced FOIC budget. Paula Pearlman reminded members they are dealing with 900 cases per year, each of which must be decided within one year, but they are dealing with a staff cut by 40%, plus research cuts. The board discussed arguments on behalf of the FOIC budget: Mitch Pearlman noted that the FOIC is such a small part of the overall state budget that cuts would not make a difference to the state, other than opening it up to the expense of lawsuits by those whose cases are not heard within the one-year-time frame. Paula Pearlman pointed out that some lawmakers are concerned by frivolous, vexatious complaints which clog the syystem. She said the commission has given some thought to ways to limit complaints to some specific number, perhaps with a fee beyond that number, with the commission director able to waive the fee. The concerns were making that workable while not raising an appearance of possible favoritism, compared to the existing, “first in, first heard” system.
The board decided that rather than offer a proposal which could open the whole FOIA to legislative meddling, that CCFOI should be ready to respond if the matter comes up during the session. Mitch Pearlman suggested it may be better to make any changes in the language of the regulations rather than the Act itself.
Michelle Jacklin asked the status of the legislation on historical medical records. Also still for consideration is a definition and cost for digital scanning of public records.
Announcements: Mitch Pearlman announced that on Jan. 23 C-FOG will host “Stories Behind The Stories” at the Lyceum, at 6 p.m., for $10. Colin McEnroe will moderate a panel discussion by Connecticut reporters talking about their big stories of 2016. And he said efforts are moving forward on a Sunshine Week pilot project in March in which ten teams, each consisting of a lawyer and a journalist will visit schools to discuss transparency in an age-appropriate manner.
Looking ahead: Dan Klau said in January the board should discuss a suggestion made previously by Jeff Daniels, to review the makeup of the board in terms of demographics, industry groups, and the possibility of seeking out others with FOI interests.
The next meeting will be at noon Jan. 18, at the Wood-n-Tap on Sisson.
(Submitted by Dana Whalen.)