Document draft dodging in Stonington

Calling a report a draft does not make it so. A state Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer made that clear in recommending the release of a consultant’s report on town operations in Stonington.

First Selectman Rob Simmons had stubbornly fought the release of the report, forcing this newspaper to file complaints with the FOI. In the end, Simmons had the good sense, at least, to end his losing battle. Rather than wait for the FOI Commission to formally adopt the hearing officer’s recommendation, and thankfully eschewing any thoughts of a court appeal, Simmons this week released the report.

Obstinate to the last, the first selectman insisted on calling the report a draft. It’s not.

In 2016, Simmons hired Keith Chapman, a consultant whose municipal managerial experience includes directing Public Works in New London, to analyze the town’s operational policies and procedures and make recommendations for improvements. The study cost $15,000.

When Chapman presented his report to Simmons in January 2017, the first selectman refused to release it, leading to the initial FOI complaint by Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas. Simmons said he considered it a draft, exempt from disclosure.

Townspeople, who paid for the report, had a right to see what Chapman came up with, undoctored by local officials. In April 2017, Simmons released the consultant’s findings, but only after making changes. He continued to refuse to release the initial, unaltered version, leading to another FOI appeal.

The version released this week shows what Simmons wanted kept out of the public eye. Found in the original report, but scrubbed from the version Simmons made public, were criticisms of operations in the Highway Department and references to leadership problems in three departments headed by holdovers from the prior administration.

Simmons on Wednesday said the leadership issues referenced in the report were not helpful and were outside the scope of the study in that they looked back on past problems, rather than looking forward on how to improve operations. That’s a strange take, because it seems exactly what Chapman should have been looking at.

The first selectman’s reluctance to air dirty laundry is understandable, however. And we’re happy to hear his assessment that operations have improved, in part due to the consultant’s recommendations.

But Simmons exceeded his authority by removing information the taxpayers paid for. He and all municipal officials should adhere to the state’s sunshine law, not supplant it with their own rationales.

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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