Councilmen are fed up with city’s Freedom of Information appeals
March 10, 2010
The City Council postponed action this week on a flurry of resolutions prompted by the $200,000 Corporation Counsel John Rose has spent in the last 24 months appealing decisions against the city by the Freedom of Information Commission.
The council is upset Rose is spending that kind of money when the city is facing a massive deficit estimated at as much as $40 million.
“The FOI Commission is overturned almost never, about 5 percent of the time,” says Councilman Matt Ritter. “Unless you have a really good reason involving potential harm to the city, you shouldn’t be appealing to prove a point or to show we read the law a different way when you’re in a financial mess like we are.”
Ritter was one of four council members — Luis Cotto, Ken Kennedy and Larry Deutsch were the others — to sign on to a resolution “urging the mayor to no longer authorize appeals of Freedom of Information [FOI] Commission decisions unless the City Council approves such an appeal …” The resolution also states that any fines or sanctions imposed by the commission would be paid by the “individual employed by the city” rather than taxpayers.
Recently the FOI Commission has been imposing maximum fines of up to $1,000 on the city.
“The FOI Commission has made it very clear they’re tired of the city of Hartford,” says Kennedy. “We’re now getting hit with maximum fines.”
Ritter said after the council meeting he believes there’s room for compromise on FOI appeals, even though technically it’s the sole purview of Mayor Eddie Perez and Rose.
“No one is saying there are not times when you have to appeal decisions [by the FOI Commission],” says Ritter. “It just has to be a more collaborative process.”
Ritter says the FOI resolution needs tweaking before presenting it to the administration, but with two council members absent this week — Pedro Segarra and Jim Boucher — work had to be postponed until the next meeting on March 22.
Another resolution directly aimed at Rose — Kennedy’s suggestion that the council go into executive session to discuss his performance confidentially — was immediately withdrawn by Kennedy at this week’s meeting. Ritter said according to state law, any employee of the city has the right to demand a public session to discuss his or her performance, as it was anticipated Rose would do.
Kennedy makes no secret of the fact he has long been frustrated with Rose. He was particularly annoyed by Rose’s recent appeal of a decision by a Superior Court judge to throw out a slate of candidates for the Democratic Town Committee backed by Perez ally Abe Giles because of irregularities on signature petitions. The appeal kept the slate in the election but they were defeated by a challenge slate organized by Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey, D-Hartford.
“Look, dammit, they can hire their own lawyers,” says Kennedy. “You can’t argue the interests of any slate once the order came down and you had no pecuniary interest against the city. What are you appealing the order for? At that point it looks like you’re advocating for a particular side.”
Another resolution from Deutsch to take a vote of no confidence in Rose “due to recent involvement of the Corporation Counsel’s office in election contests, losses of Freedom of Information (FOI) appeals, and unnecessary expenses for taxpayers,” was also postponed, according to the resolution.
Cotto says there were no reasons given in the resolution for the vote of no confidence. “It’s hard to take that on,” he says.