The City of Hartford recently lost a court appeal of a 2007 FOI ruling that ordered city officials to disclose most of the public documents that they handed over to the Chief State’s Attorney office for a corruption probe of Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and his administration.
According to The Hartford Courant, which lodged the FOI complaint that led to the court ruling, the city was required by the court to release the requested documents in February.
However, the city continued to move forward with its appeal to argue against a $400 fine charged against Carl Nasto, a city attorney.
For a cash-starved city that is closing library branches and laying off its teachers, every penny counts.
That’s why Hartford officials should be ashamed of themselves for wasting approximately $30,000 in legal fees appealing the FOI ruling to fight disclosure of public documents and to fend off a $400 dollar fine.
City officials believed that they were right to deny disclosure of the public documents because it related to an ongoing criminal investigation.
Furthermore, they wanted clarification because the FOI ruling required that the city comply with all public information disclosure laws going forward.
To support their argument, city officials point to a March 2008 letter from Kevin Kane, the Chief State’s Attorney, pertaining to a subsequent Courant FOI request for copies of subpoenas and additional documents related to the Perez probe. In the letter, Kane cites a state law that maintains that an investigatory grand jury “shall be conducted in private,” and that all parts of the record are to remain sealed unless the panel or court grants access.
However, in the July 23 Superior Court ruling upholding the FOI Commission fine, the presiding judge, Henry S. Cohn, didn’t buy that argument.
Nor do we.
Hartford’s stated desire for clarification of the FOI ruling and fine doesn’t justify such a fiscally imprudent expense.
Some attorneys have said privately that they are shocked that Nasto would be fined for representing his client, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.
But here’s why they are wrong. Perez isn’t Nasto’s client. The city’s taxpayers are.
Nasto works for the public, not a politician.
The confusion of allegiance reinforces the reason Connecticut’s FOI laws were enacted more than 30 years ago. And it’s the very reason the FOI Commission and the state Superior Court ruled against the city in this case. The final allegiance of all public employees should be to the public whom they serve.
Importantly, a truly transparent municipal administration should lean toward disclosure of all public information. The city’s action characterizes the Perez administration as just the opposite.
The situation could become even more ludicrous if city officials decide to spend additional taxpayer money on yet another appeal of the Superior Court’s ruling. If they move forward with another appeal, it would signal their clear disregard of the basic tenants of the Freedom of Information Act. The public has a legal right to examine records created and retained by a public entity.
The city has until Aug. 12 to make a decision about whether to appeal.