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Perez's Transparent Promises

Column By STAN SIMPSON

January 19, 2008

Four years ago, Hartford city Councilman Kenneth Kennedy was suspicious about the selection process for contractors participating in a massive school building project. He requested documents from the administration so he could study the matter. The corporation counsel's response: Sure but it will cost you $400 for copies.

"My reaction was, 'I'm not paying it,'" said Kennedy, who has had a strained relationship with Perez. "I'm an elected official entitled to those documents."

Kennedy finally received the documents 18 months later after filing a complaint with the state's Freedom of Information Commission. Kennedy says he's not convinced that there were not improper influences in the selection process and is still miffed that he, an elected official, was stonewalled for more than a year.

That a sitting councilman had no recourse but to file an FOI complaint against his city tells us about the relationship between Perez and Kennedy and the arrogant pettiness of Perez's administration.

The city's dealings with Kennedy, unfortunately, were just a precursor to how his administration would deal with those citizens deemed agitators.

In his speeches, Perez espouses "transparency in government," but all too often his actions come across as someone with something to hide. There's a track record now of stiff-arming the public's right to know. Perez circumvented the city council and the city's parking authority in hooking up political operative Abe Giles with a cushy parking garage-management deal. The mayor is being investigated by a grand jury.

In a private deal, Perez used a city contractor to make $20,000 in renovations to his home. The deal sidestepped the city's licensing procedures, and Perez didn't pay the contractor in full until after state investigators started sniffing around.

In another dubious interaction, Perez denies he implied that Giles should be paid $100,000 by a developer before the developer could close on a city-owned property. But when pressed by The Courant to release communications connected to that failed deal, the city refused, saying the information had been turned over to the chief state's attorney's office. The FOI commission fined Hartford $400 for the improper denial of information. The city is appealing.

In an unrelated case, Republican Kevin Brookman, vocal in local issues, says he, too, was jerked around by the administration and insulted by Corporation Counsel John Rose when he requested information about city billing records.

A representative of the Hartford Small Business Alliance said Friday that his group also believes the city is selectively misusing the FOI process as a form of punishment.

"From my client's perspective, the FOI act was being used to frustrate production of information, rather than trying to facilitate it," said attorney Gregory Piecuch.

At his inauguration this month, Perez again promised a transparent administration, one that would "encourage the highest standards of conduct in our governing." The pronouncement, including his plan to appoint an independent ethics counsel, fell flat for those who have come to see the mayor as ethically challenged.

Perez spokeswoman Sarah Barr said the Perez administration has been one of the most transparent in recent memory. "Anything the investigators have asked for, he has been cooperative," she said.

Government by subpoena. It makes transparent only the mayor's promises.

Stan Simpson's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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