If Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez doesn't get a better grasp of the "public" part of being a public official, it's going to keep costing him and the city.
The state Freedom of Information Commission on Wednesday ruled unanimously that Mr. Perez broke the state's sunshine law when he convened closed meetings to see if the city's major corporations would support a new arena in Hartford.
The commission fined Mr. Perez $500 and recommended that he and city corporation counsel John Rose attend a workshop on the state's freedom of information laws. This was an unusual step for the commission, but an appropriate one. The meetings of a task force initiated by the mayor to study the feasibility of a major downtown building that almost invariably will need public assistance are clearly in the public interest.
This ruling follows the decision of a state judge upholding another FOI ruling against the city for not releasing documents relating to the grand jury probe of Mr. Perez's administration. That ruling included a $400 fine for a city lawyer. The city has spent tens of thousands of dollars appealing this case, for no apparent reason.
City officials do not stonewall all requests for information; they cooperate most of the time. But as the two fines indicate, they sometimes dig their heels in and fight the release of information that ought to be available to the public.
This does no one any good, including city hall. When you don't disclose, people begin to think you have something to hide.
Officials are well advised to hew to the FOI laws, and a new city board can help. City councilman Matthew Ritter is proposing the creation of a three-member Freedom of Information Advisory Board to foster compliance with the state law.
Under the circumstances, this is a good idea.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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