Kevin Lembo FOI honor well deserved

When they ran for governor and state comptroller in 2010, Dannel P. Malloy and Kevin Lembo promised, if elected, to make government more open and accountable. They were elected and one of them kept his promise.

And on Wednesday, the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information gave Mr. Lembo its Bice Clemow Award, named for the late Connecticut editor who was a fighter for the citizen's right to know and one of the framers of the state' pioneering Freedom of Information Act. The award is given each year to the individual who contributed most effectively to open government and the right to know in Connecticut.

Mr. Lembo was honored for taking the novel position that the taxpayer deserves to know how his or her money is being spent. To move that concept along, he launched "Open Connecticut," a website that pulls together information on budgets, salaries, vendor payments and numerous other public records heretofore effectively buried by various state agencies.

But the Clemow Award also comes after a significant disappointment for Mr. Lembo, the legislature's failure to approve "An Act Concerning Transparency in Economic Assistance." This was a bill that would have given the public more information as to whether those huge tax breaks and other grants and incentives given to various state-based corporations are paying off for the state - or not.

The bill passed the House unanimously in late May but failed to reach the Senate, even though that body adjourned 17 minutes before the session officially ended June 5. In the Connecticut legislature, you could pass the Magna Carta in 17 minutes.

The measure had wide support from groups as diverse as the conservative Yankee Instititute and the liberal Connecticut Voices for Children. It also attracted strong opposition, most notably from the powerful business lobby, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and some prominent recipients of tax breaks.

Leading that pack was United Technologies Corp., which protested that data released through the bill would enable competitors to use the information to their advantage.

In the past two decades, UTC has been given $692 million in assistance from the State Department of Economic and Community Development - $257 million in direct assistance and $434 million in tax credits, according to The Waterbury Republican-American. This is the same company that has joined other Connecticut corporations in being highly critical of the state's "unfriendly" business climate while it sent jobs elsewhere.

If the Lembo bill had passed, taxpayers would also know more about Gov. Malloy's "First Five" recipients of state assistance. These are five large corporations receiving millions from the state in return for pledges to add 200 jobs in two to five years. Information made public in the Lembo bill would have made it clear if 200 new jobs added by CIGNA, for one example, would have been worth a $71 million state payment or if $25 million to ESPN would have benefitted the state as much as it helped the sports TV giant.

Perhaps that explains the apparent lack of enthusiasm for Mr. Lembo's bill from Gov. Malloy, the other half of the dynamic duo pledging government accountability when they successfully ran on the same ticket in 2010.

As we have seen and noted in the past, the governor has been less then enthusiastic in supporting open government since his election and has, in fact, tried to weaken the Freedom of Information Commission and other government watchdogs.

During the debate on the Lembo bill, it was reported and never denied that the governor sympathized with UTC's opposition to the bill and during the final days of the session, he showed little to no interest in its passage.

While his spokesman, Andrew Doba, claimed last week that the administration supported the bill, there was no evidence of that support. The Democratic leaders in the Senate, President Pro Tempore Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney said the governor's support ran the gamut from lukewarm to neutral.

There is said to be some resentment among Democratic leaders who believe Mr. Lembo isn't the team player he should be in matters of concern to the party. But he gives every appearance of being a team player for a bigger team - the taxpayers of Connecticut.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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