Officials Meet Again In Private To Discuss New Arena
By JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writer
June 25, 2008
Mayor Eddie A. Perez wanted to know whether there was sentiment within the Greater Hartford business community to support a new downtown arena, so he created a "task force" to study the question.
When that group's first meeting was held behind closed doors in April, The Courant questioned the secrecy and filed a Freedom of Information complaint with the state. The group stopped meeting at city hall and retreated to the offices of the MetroHartford Alliance regional economic development organization.
There, business leaders say they can talk with candor, out of earshot of the press and public.
They met again Tuesday, turning away a Courant reporter. Perez and the city contend the task force meetings are private.
"We volunteered, at the request of some of the folks on the committee, to make sure this was a private meeting, so we weren't caught [by the issue of] is it a public meeting or not because the mayor called for it," said R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, head of the alliance. "If the mayor had come to us and we had thought this through before we were asked … to chair it, we would have said, 'Let us run the meeting,'"
But that's not what happened.
In January, a city-paid consultant told the mayor that although the right conditions were in reach for a new sports and entertainment arena to replace the aging XL Center, corporate support for such a center was "uncertain."
So before asking the state legislature to fund a new arena, Perez assembled a task force to gauge whether there is enough corporate support to pay for suites, seats and advertising to make such a venture worthwhile.
On April 9, Perez convened the first meeting of his task force at city hall. It was chaired by Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief administrative officer of Travelers. Other members included officials from the Carpenters Union Local 43, Aetna, Webster Bank, Hartford Steam Boiler, Bank of America, XL Holdings, the MetroHartford Alliance, The Phoenix, United Technologies, The Hartford and Connecticut Bank and Trust Company. It also included elected state officials and state and city employees.
At the time, Perez said the meeting was closed to the public because it was a task force, not a commission, and task forces aren't public.
The Courant filed a complaint with the state's Freedom of Information Commission following that meeting. According to state law, the office of the mayor is a public agency, as is "any committee of, or created by" that office.
The group's subsequent meetings were held elsewhere and have been closed to the public.
"We have a lot of meetings that the chamber has that are not in public," Perez said in an interview Friday. "It's not a city task force. It's a task force advising me on … how we can get corporate support for the arena."
Griebel said his organization has committees like this all the time that aren't open to the public. This one could have been similar, but for the way it began, he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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