Opinion: CT government’s conflicted feelings about transparency

Image from the website of the state's Freedom of Information Commission

CT FOI Commission

Image from the website of the state's Freedom of Information Commission

Throughout the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, a rise in the use of data is the vanguard of a new push on government transparency. The people’s right to know has rarely, in recent years, been more of a universal battle cry.

And this applies to some areas of state government. Most notable is state Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s new data portal Open Connecticut.  In the introduction to the new portal, Lembo writes, “We all pay taxes – but few of us actually research where tax dollars come from and where they go. … It’s your money. You have a right to know.” Check it out.

This past week at an open data conference hosted by the CT Data Collaborative at Hartford Public Library, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spoke of the data push by his government:  “Ultimately, we want a substantially more efficient state government  … We may find that we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re asking the wrong questions.” His Executive Order #39, signed last month, creates an open data portal to “further Connecticut’s commitment to transparency, efficiency, social progress, and economic expansion.”

But there are other kinds of actions being taken in the state Legislature that are going (excuse the non-digital expression) counter-clockwise.

House Bill 5481 would allow decisions by the Freedom of Information Commission – a panel that’s considered to be a model — to be overturned by a new entity to be called the Central Office of Administrative Hearings. The COAH could reverse actions by other watchdog agencies, too. Some consider this a step toward eliminating the FOIC. A hearing is slated for this Monday.

Two other pieces of legislation are also on the table – one would close off key pieces of information (like hiring and disciplinary measures) about current and former probation officers; another would allow the Board of Pardons and Paroles to keep secret the information it uses to make decisions on pardons.

As a young reporter working at a now-defunct Hartford newspaper, I interviewed Helen Loy, appointed in 1975 by the Watergate-sensitized Gov. Ella Grasso as one of three members of the new Freedom of Information Commission.

The FOI Act — which created the commission – will be 40 years old next year.  Here’s a reminder, since it’s apparently needed, of what the 1975 General Assembly approved and the governor signed:

“The legislature finds and declares that secrecy in government is inherently inconsistent with a true democracy, that the people have a right to be fully informed of the action taken by public agencies in order that they may retain control over the instruments they have created; that the people do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them; that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know….”

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A full report on this busy week can be reviewed starting on our home page – www.ctmirror.org.  Here are some highlights:

Politics
Foley’s support of minimum wage comes with caveats

Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas reported on some of the findings in the latest Quinnipiac poll:

Poll: Malloy gets low marks on priority issues
and
Poll finds broad support for assisted suicide in Connecticut

Health
Analysis: Obamacare won’t replace Connecticut’s mental health cuts

For some new Medicaid clients, delays getting care, prescriptions

Budget and economy
CT businesses say investing in state’s future trumps tax cuts

UTC deal draws cautious responses at Capitol 

Education
CT community colleges’ emergency budget reserves hit all-time low

Changing remedial college courses: law, implementation, pushback

Environment
Tara Cook-Littman: GMO activist becomes a candidate

Congress cuts increases in flood insurance premiums

Washington
CT defense contractors largely spared from Pentagon cuts

Blumenthal clashes with federal railroad chief over Metro-North crashes

Enjoy the rest of your weekend…

Jenifer Frank
Mirror Editor

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