The following blog post is one of six that the New England First Amendment Coalition will publish during Sunshine Week, highlighting the need for government transparency and addressing freedom of information concerns throughout the New England states. When posted, these articles can be read here.
By James H. Smith
NEFAC, Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information
The non-profit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, in its never-ending quest to preserve democracy, advocate for open government and roast purveyors of secrecy, is awarding its first annual Secrecy in Government Awards. It was easy to find six guilty parties. There could have been more. But in honor of Sunshine Week, here we have the cream of the crop.
DAN MALLOY, Connecticut Governor
Gov. Malloy‘s heart may be in the right place, but his head isn’t when it comes to transparency. He is proposing secret jurisprudence for 18-20 year olds. Bad idea. These millennials can vote, they can go to war, they can get married and have children — but if they’re arrested and go to court no one can know about it? And once they are adjudicated secretly, then they can have their record erased as if it never happened.
Too many in Connecticut government — just like the Soviets who air brushed away photos of anyone they wanted forgotten — think you can erase history. You can’t. The U.S. and Connecticut constitutions guarantee a public trial. Democratic societies do not countenance secret arrests. Criminal justice should not be secret in America. The Connecticut General Assembly needs to quash this well-meaning but democratically unwise plan.
SUSAN HERBST, UConn President | LAWRENCE D. McHUGH, Board of Trustees Chairman | JOSHUA R. NEWTON, UConn Foundation President and CEO
These three will receive a Secrecy in Government Award for their continuous march toward closing the door on the public when they decide how to spend the public’s money. Newton tells the legislature that the foundation needs secrecy even as the other premiere public university foundations in New England are open and subject to their respective state’s FOI laws. Herbst and McHugh defended secret sessions on the $1.3 billion UConn budget knowing most of the money comes from the public. UConn has even threatened to go to court to try to obtain more secrecy in its budget processes. We suggest they don’t spend taxpayer money fighting in court to keep their financial deliberations away from the public.
PAUL CIANELLI, President of the New England Cable and Telecommunications Association
Cianelli receives the award for his newspeak — “Make no mistake about it — this is a tax” — in opposing CT-N’s (the Connecticut Network) plan to move to a cable channel and expand from two cameras at the Capitol to the ability to cover nearly all legislative, judicial and executive branch hearings. It will open government processes for all to see. A C-SPAN for Connecticut for about 40 cents a month for cable subscribers. Tax indeed.
NORWALK BOARD OF EDUCATION
The Norwalk Board of Education receives a Secrecy in Government Award for its astonishing written policy that it “does not exist between meetings.” This allows board members to do board business between meetings and claim their actions are not subject to FOI laws. We hope board chair Michael Lyons follows through with his plan to erase that bylaw.
James H. Smith is a member of the New England First Amendment Coalition’s board of directors and is president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, which was founded in 1955. Smith has been working as a reporter and editor for 42 years.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include: The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Boston Globe and Boston University.