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New London secrecy troubling

Published August 19. 2011 4:00AM

The length to which the city attorney in New London is going to keep information secret about problems with or between the administration, the City Council and Police Chief Margaret Ackley is extremely troubling.

In responding to legitimate requests for information from The Day, attorney Thomas Londregan offered up specious arguments claiming the documents sought by the newspaper were exempt from the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. We doubt that even Mr. Londregan believes in the authenticity of his arguments. The Day is appealing to the FOI Commission.

So why isn't the city coming clean? Who benefits? At this point it's impossible to say.

In responses to The Day, Mr. Londregan acknowledges that there is a "Memorandum of Understanding and a Release and Settlement Agreement" between Chief Ackley and City Manager Denise Rose. Clearly that is a public document. No deft legal maneuvering by Mr. Londregan can make it otherwise.

He makes several attempts - calling it a draft, claiming it is not effective because the chief can negate it by Dec. 30, arguing the council has not ratified it yet.

It is not a draft, it is an agreement between two parties both employed by the city and paid by taxpayers, who deserve to know about it. What Chief Ackley chooses to do with the agreement is irrelevant to it being public. And if documents became open only after council action, how could citizens have any influence on public policy? No one would accept the argument that the proposed budget is a secret draft until the council approves it, yet that is the same ludicrous argument Mr. Londregan attempts to make here.

In response to The Day's FOI requests, Mr. Londregan also references the city receiving two letters from Chief Ackley's attorneys, on July 29 and Aug. 10, the latter the same day the council went behind closed doors for nearly three hours with Chief Ackley and her attorney.

According to Mr. Londregan, the letters indicate an intention by its police chief "to assert a legal right and institute an action against the city if relief is not granted."

From what actions is Chief Ackley seeking relief? What legal rights is she asserting? What relief does she seek? That's none of the public's business, according to Mr. Londregan.

When all else fails in keeping information closed, government attorneys claim attorney-client privilege, and so Mr. Londregan does here. Unfortunately for him the case in point, Lash v. FOI Commission, which Mr. Londregan cites, sets up a four-pronged test for privileged communication, a test that these letters do not meet. One test is that "the communications must relate to the legal advice sought by the agency or attorney." Somehow, we don't think Ackley's attorney was seeking the city's legal advice. Another is that "the communications must be made in confidence," certainly not an expectation when you are writing to a city.

The city's attorney also trots out the definition of a "pending claim" and states the letters meet the definition. What he fails to note is that pending claims are not closed; it's the records referring to legal strategies taken in response to those claims that officials can keep from the public.

Bottom line, none of these excuses pass muster. Stop the cover-up and release all the information.

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