Stonington to release operations report Friday

Stonington — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Wednesday night to release a consultant’s report that analyzed the operations of town departments and makes 56 recommendations for improvements.

The board’s decision came after discussing — behind closed doors — whether to release the report.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said the report will be released to the public at noon on Friday in Town Hall. He said the report is an edited version of the draft submitted by the consultant. He said the edits did not involve any substantive changes to the analysis and recommendations but involved corrections of grammar and typographical errors.

The decision to release the report came after members disagreed over two issues.

Simmons and Selectman Kate Rotella refused to second a motion by Selectman Mike Spellman to immediately release both the report and its summary without going into executive session. Spellman said his motion was in keeping with his campaign promise to promote transparency in government.

Then, both Spellman and Rotella refused to second Simmons’s motion to go into executive session to discuss the report, which the town has refused to release to the The Day since early March, prompting a pending complaint from the newspaper to the state Freedom of Information Commission.

Simmons called a recess, and he, Spellman and Rotella huddled in the corner of the police station community room with town labor attorney Meredith Diette. Five minutes later they came back into session and voted to go into executive session after Diette clarified that the details of the report, which Simmons maintains is a draft and thus exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act, could affect pending litigation against the town.

State Freedom of Information law requires boards voting to go into executive session to discuss pending litigation to name the lawsuit. When asked what suit the board would be discussing, Diette refused to comment. The revised reason for the executive session was not listed on the agenda for the meeting, another apparent violation of FOI law.

Until Wednesday night, Simmons had maintained the report still was in draft form and thus exempt from disclosure under state FOI law “because the Town believes the public interest in withholding the draft at this point in time clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”

The town has paid $15,000 for the 20-page report and Simmons said in early March he had begun implementing some of its 50 recommendations. Simmons said that while the original agreement with consultant Keith Chapman called for providing the town with a draft report in September, followed by a final report in January, Chapman did not provide the draft to the town until January.

In his letter denying The Day’s request for Chapman’s submission, Simmons said “there are certain topics and issues in the draft that may not become part of the final report, which could become problematic if the draft version is released now.”

He said at the time that draft sections may be edited or removed from the final report, such as those outside the scope of work of the consulting agreement, and required nondisclosure at that time. He said the town also needed to vet the process used by Chapman to ensure there was a factual basis for his conclusions.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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