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Come clean

A local town is once again withholding access to public information in an act of excessive caution and in unwarranted deference to the desires of a public employee.

The latest case involves Town of Stonington highway department employee Ernie Santos. Mr. Santos allegedly threatened a fellow employee, leading to his placement on paid administrative leave.

Workplace violence is a serious matter, but exactly what happened, how the town dealt with it and whether the employee has any pattern of misconduct remains a mystery to the public that pays his salary. The reason? First Selectman Ed Haberek refuses to release the personnel records sought by The Day under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr. Haberek contends his hands are tied, that he is only following legal advice. And because of Mr. Santos' objections to releasing the documents, he will only act if ordered by the state Freedom of Information Commission. He did release the employee's pay, position and years of service. That's hardly enough.

So once again we find a public official and timorous lawyers more concerned about offending government workers than serving the public interest.

According to the FOI Act, municipalities can withhold: "Personnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy."

The key words are "invasion of personal privacy." The Day does not seek personal information. It seeks information about the actions of a town employee during work, any grievances filed and disciplinary steps taken by the town - all public, not personal, matters.

As for Mr. Santos' objections, the act is clear that such objections do not prohibit a public agency from releasing information that it cannot reasonably construe as an invasion of personal privacy, which in this case it cannot.

Stonington should come clean with all the public information about this incident - documents, reports, grievances, communications - without forcing a lengthy, unnecessary and costly appeal to the FOI Commission.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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