No more stalling, release Stonington document

With the Freedom of Information Commission's 4-2 decision upholding the hearing officer's recommendation, Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek should not delay in releasing the harassment complaint filed in 2009 against him by a woman employee under his supervision. After all, Mr. Haberek has said he never opposed its release, but was acting on the advice of counsel.

Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas sought the document after he learned of it during Mr. Haberek's 2013 re-election campaign, an election in which Mr. Haberek's personal conduct was an issue. The Day reporter appealed to the FOI Commission when the Haberek administration refused to release it. Filing a court appeal to stall its release would be a waste of tax dollars.

We are disappointed that two FOI commissioners voted against the document's release despite hearing officer Victor Perpetua's clear finding that it is not covered by any exemption to the FOI law.

The town attorney argued that allowing such complaints to become public could have a chilling effect, discouraging employees from filing complaints. However, the names of those complaining can be removed from the released documents, according to past decisions in such cases. Allowing town officials to deal with such matters in complete secrecy would invite abuse.

Sunlight sanitizes and is the reason for the FOI law.

It is also troubling the commission did not order the release of the complete file in the case, as recommended by Mr. Perpetua. The commission ruled Mr. Wojtas did not ask for all the records - only the complaint - so he doesn't get them.

The problem with that twisted logic is that Mr. Wojtas did not know the file existed - he only heard about the complaint - so how could he have asked for it? It is implicit that he was seeking related documents.

No, the commission ruled, he has to specifically request the file, which he will. Potentially, the town could refuse and force another appeal to the commission, effectively blocking for months access to documents an FOI official has already reviewed and found to be public! It's absurd. A commission entrusted with upholding Connecticut's open government law should not be in the business of using a technicality to deny access to documents.

In any event, the Haberek administration should turn over the entire file.

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