FOI Panel Says Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez Broke Law
By STEVEN GOODE | Courant Staff Writer
September 25, 2008
The state Freedom of Information Commission on Wednesday unanimously adopted a hearing officer's report concluding that Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez broke the law when he convened closed-door meetings to discuss corporate support for a new arena in Hartford.
The ruling — written by one of the agency's five commissioners — comes with penalties, including a $500 civil penalty for Perez, and a recommendation that Perez and city attorney John Rose attend a workshop on the state's freedom of information laws. The ruling also concluded that the city must release minutes from all of the arena task force study's meetings.
Perez earlier this year created the task force to study whether there was support in the Greater Hartford business community for a new downtown arena, and in April convened the first closed-door meeting at city hall. The task force's chairman was Andy Bessette, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for The Travelers Cos. The task force also included other business officials, a union representative, elected officials and city and state employees. Subsequent meeting were also held privately at the offices of the MetroHartford Alliance regional chamber of commerce.
On Wednesday, J. Hanson Guest, a private attorney who has been representing the city against the Freedom of Information Act complaint filed by The Courant, argued for a dismissal of the hearing officer's report on several counts, including that the task force was not a public agency. Guest also reiterated business leaders' contention that the meetings needed to be held "out of public earshot."
"You want to have the candid input of the parties," Guest said, because it was "in the best interests of the city."
But state Freedom of Information Commissioner Dennis E. O'Connor, who wrote the decision, concluded earlier this month that Perez, in his capacity as mayor, created the task force and therefore it was public.
Attorney Paul Guggina, who represented The Courant, reiterated Wednesday that the complaint was "about shutting the public out of meetings that should be public."
"The city to this day does not understand the Freedom of Information Act," said Guggina, an attorney for Hinckley, Allen & Snyder.
Following the commission's decision, Rose was asked if the city would appeal the ruling.
"No comment. That's what you get from me," Rose said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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