Stonington to pursue FOI Commission guidance on The Day's request

Stonington - The town attorney said he will send a letter to a state Freedom of Information Commission ombudsman asking for a meeting to review "the scope and depth of" The Day's request for text messages and emails sent from First Selectman Ed Haberek's town-issued BlackBerry in 2011 and 2012.

"The task is daunting to say the least," Town Attorney Thomas Londregan said in an email last week. "But we have to come to a conclusion and do it."

Almost six months after The Day filed the Freedom of Information request, the town has not turned over any of the text messages and emails.

After The Day made its request on Feb. 13, Londregan said he had set up a procedure in which Haberek would first review the transcripts of his emails and text messages and point out the ones he felt should be exempt from disclosure under state law. These could include items such as personnel matters and contract negotiations. At that point, Director of Administrative Services Vin Pacileo, with assistance from Londregan, would review the items Haberek felt are exempt and decide if they should be released.

Londregan had estimated the process of reviewing the approximately 2,000 pages of material would take about two months.

Because of the town's delay in releasing the information, The Day filed an appeal on May 13 with the state Freedom of Information Commission seeking Haberek's emails, text messages and phone calls. The commission will now schedule a hearing on the appeal.

When questioned after a June 25 Board of Selectmen meeting about the progress of his review, Haberek said he was too busy to review the transcripts and would not participate in a "fishing expedition" by The Day. Haberek did not respond to an email seeking an update of his review.

Last week, Londregan met with Haberek and Pacileo to get an update on the review. Londregan said he was told a "small percentage" of the review had been done.

The town's Computer Systems, Internet and Remote Access Policy, was updated in January 2010. It addresses emails, voicemails and faxes but does not specifically mention text messages, which at the time of the update were not as widely used as they are today.

The policy cautions employees against using town devices for any improper purposes, which it specifies, or for purposes not related to town business.

In another section, it states personal or informal use is "permissible only within reasonable limits."

All email and Internet records are considered town property, and the policy tells employees not to use town devices when dealing with personal and confidential matters.

The email and Internet records are also subject to disclosure, and the town reserves the right to immediate access to all devices and to conduct random reviews to ensure they are not being used for improper purposes, according to the policy.

"Employees may not expect or assert any a right of privacy rights" when it comes to the use of town devices, the policy states.

In connection with a separate case, at the beginning of last week, the FOI Commission officially notified the town that it has upheld The Day's complaint against the town and ordered the town to "forthwith" release a harassment complaint that former Human Services employee Alicia O'Neill filed against Haberek in 2009. The town refused to release the complaint when The Day requested it last summer.

On Monday, Pacileo said the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to meet in executive session on Aug. 13 to discuss the commission's ruling and decide whether to release the complaint. The town has the option of appealing the order to Superior Court within 45 days.

The Day has also requested the "supervisory file" that former Administrative Services Director George Sylvestre compiled about the O'Neill complaint. Pacileo has said the selectmen will consider the release of the file in conjunction with its discussion about the release of O'Neill's complaint.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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