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A Repeat Offender

The Freedom of Information Commission is preparing to cite the city of Hartford yet again for not following the rules

Daniel D’Ambrosio

February 11, 2010

The city of Hartford appears to be headed for yet another smackdown by the Freedom of Information Commission at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 24.« This time it’s West Hartford civil engineer Richard Moffitt who didn’t get the documents he requested from the city for more than five months. Moffitt is trying to collect $17,000 he says the city owes him for engineering work connected to the city’s levees, which need extensive renovation to meet Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements.« A proposed final decision by the commission finds that city attorney John Rose violated the promptness requirement of the FOI Act, but does not impose a fine, which could have been as much as $2,000. « The commission will decide whether to adopt the proposed decision after hearing oral arguments from both sides. « As the Advocate reported in July 2009, Moffitt was caught up in the firing of former Public Works Director Clarence Corbin by Mayor Eddie Perez for allegedly going behind the back of the city’s official Washington lobbyist — Baker Donelson — to lobby state and federal agencies directly for funds to fix the city’s dikes and levees. The city did not renew its contract with Baker Donelson when it expired in January. « Hartford is facing an estimated $40 million to $50 million in repairs to its flood control system, which protects more than $1 billion of downtown properties.« After Corbin was fired, the city refused to pay Moffitt $17,480 he said he was owed for engineering work he did in support of Corbin’s request for funding, which brought in some $5 million from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The city claimed Moffitt was acting as a lobbyist without registering with the state. But the Office of State Ethics rejected the city’s claim, based on materials provided by Moffitt’s attorney, Robert Ludgin, including purchase orders from the city for the work Moffitt did.« Losing decisions before the FOI Commission is a familiar scenario for city attorney John Rose, who the Hartford Courant estimated has spent more than $125,000 defending against FOI complaints since 2008.« “It appears the city is what you might call a serial offender,” said Ludgin. « Ludgin believes the commission should hit the city with a “hefty fine” to show it takes the violations of the FOI Act seriously. Commission spokesman Tom Hennick said it’s up to the hearing officer whether to recommend a fine, but that Ludgin is welcome to argue his case.« “If the argument is persuasive, the commission can order another hearing to determine if a penalty should be levied,” said Hennick.« Ludgin filed a lawsuit against the city in November to try to collect the money Moffitt says he’s owed. Rose has since turned the case over to outside counsel. « “Lawsuits get a life of their own,” said Ludgin. “If they want to pay a lawyer to continue defending [their position] they could spend more than they owe [Moffitt].”« That’s been the concern of City Councilman Larry Deutsch. In a Jan. 28 e-mail to Moffitt, Deutsch wrote, “Mr. Rose’s past statements that you would not receive ‘another nickel,’ and his belief that your services in engineering were ‘never rendered,’ are shameful and unprofessional, and [it is] my belief that his resistance to paying legitimate claims for engineering services are wasteful of city resources.”« City spokeswoman Sarah Barr did not return a call for comment. «« «

Richard Moffitt wants Hartford to pay up.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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