John Rose, corporation counsel for the city of Hartford, is known among media circles for being unfriendly to reporters when they ask for public documents.
It is no secret that Rose commonly uses a number of stalling strategies to fend off Freedom of Information requests, such as citing prohibitive costs for copies or maintaining the request is too burdensome for staff. He has even been known to rebuff requests by city counselors and other city officials when they have requested access to city documents. His favorite excuse is to maintain that the request is improper under Connecticut law.
A recent e-mail, inadvertently sent to Kevin Brookman, a citizen requesting access to billing records from Hartford law firm Ford & Paulekas to the city, offers an unfiltered view of Rose’s attitude about FOI requests.
In the e-mail, Rose writes to Carl Nasto, deputy corporation counsel, “Carl, so who lit a fire under this [expletive]. If Paulekas is involved in litigation/ongoing, and/or other projects that he hasn’t asked about, can I shut him down or make him define what projects he is referencing … like Hartford High and that’s it … ??”
According to Sarah Barr, spokeswoman for Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, Rose apologized for the e-mail.
In a written statement, she added, “The city will turn over the documents according to the court order. The city has always maintained that it would comply with any proper FOI request. The city has never believed that the FOI law allows individuals or entities to obtain documents related to on-going investigations.”
What Barr’s statement doesn’t say is that the city is not prohibited from disclosing the documents in most instances under the FOI statutes, even if the matter is under investigation. Notably, Rose chooses to deny access and has become the poster boy for putting up barriers to a transparent government process.
That stance says a lot about Mayor Perez and his stated commitment to run a transparent municipal operation.
What’s disturbing is a clear pattern of Rose’s bias towards denial of Freedom of Information requests, his delay tactics and, based on his e-mail to Brookman, his behind-the-scenes efforts to block access to public documents.
Rose’s efforts to deny access to public information are shameful. He was right to apologize.
But the apology is simply a smokescreen. The city of Hartford is appealing two FOIC decisions that said it should turn over documents to citizens regarding specific requests.
The city is spending taxpayer money to fight disclosure of records subpoenaed by state prosecutors into an investigation of the mayor, as well as appealing $400 in FOIC fines imposed on Nasto. What does that say about the city and its use of taxpayer dollars? Consider the actual cost of paying city staff to appeal the FOIC fine and decisions.
The city of Hartford isn’t a stranger to FOIC complaints. In 2007, the city racked up about 20 FOIC complaints.
What should be noted is that when city officials, like Rose, block access, most citizens and reporters don’t pursue their request. For reporters, the information becomes too stale to qualify for a news story and, for an average citizen, too time intensive to be worth it.
The Perez administration should be embarrassed by the corporation counsel’s intent to appeal the FOIC’s rulings. He should encourage Rose to be less confrontational with requestors, and city officials should work on providing more access, shining light on the way it runs the capital city.