On June 7th, 2014, I had the good fortune of being the guest on Focus on Connecticut, which is a weekly, half-hour public affairs show on “News 12 Connecticut.” The show is hosted by Tom Appleby, a veteran news journalist in the best sense of those terms. The purpose of my appearance was to discuss my book, Understanding the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act and Access to Public Meetings and Records, which was published by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. The interview focused on topics such as electronic meetings, access to e-mails, and the penalties for non-compliance with the FOIA.
What continues to strike me as most interesting (besides the fact that I had never been told to wait in a “green room” before) is the continuing, much-cherished nature of the FOIA in the eyes of members of the media. The FOIA was enacted in Connecticut just after Watergate, and as was evident during the recent debate after the Newtown tragedy and during the “Task Force on Victim Privacy”, attempts to amend the FOIA are greeted with vehement opposition by the media. Similarly, there are people who are suspicious of efforts to keep any records or meetings secret, even where such “secrecy” may be permitted by law, and justified.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO? In this context, it behooves public agencies to not only comply with the letter of the FOIA, but also be forthright when they are not permitting open access to meetings and documents. For example, while there is no requirement that a public agency must inform members of the public that a requested record does not exist; Smith v. FOIC, 2012 WL 4378028 (Conn. Super. 2012); it is probably best to inform a member of the public (or the media) at the onset that there are no responsive records in order to avoid suspicion and a complaint being filed with the Freedom of Information Commission [“FOIC”]. In addition, most members of the media are inherently reasonable, and transparence as to why you are not offering access to certain records and meetings will go a long way toward avoiding needless FOIC complaints.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. Please feel free to order the book, and I will continuing to blog about interesting FOIA developments on this site. Stay tuned.