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We'll say it again, governor: Comply with the FOI Act, provide emails

We had hoped not to have to write an editorial on this topic again.

It has now been almost two months since we published the editorial, “Stop stalling, governor, release emails sought under FOI Act,” concerning the failure of Gov. Ned Lamont’s office to respond to a straight-forward Freedom of Information request.

Day columnist David Collins filed a request in September 2020 for emails between Lamont or others in the Office of Governor and David Kooris, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority. As noted previously, it should not be hard to use a search mechanism to come up with all such emails.

Yes, a lawyer must review the emails to make sure they are not exempted from disclosure — such as contract negotiations or trade secrets — but these exemptions should be few, if any, and the process should not take an inordinate amount of time.

On Sunday, Collins wrote in his column that the governor’s office has still not complied with his initial request. Now he is again facing delays in seeking more information about the planned $235 million public/private redevelopment of State Pier in New London, for use as a hub in support of offshore wind development.

In his latest FOI request, filed March 24, Collins seeks access to any correspondences between the Office of the Governor and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection concerning the State Pier project and the Connecticut Port Authority. Collins, known for his investigative journalism and sharp criticism, is searching for any signs that the governor’s office put its thumb on the scale concerning DEEP approval of the State Pier construction plans.

The failure of the administration to comply in over eight months with the first FOI request from Collins is inexcusable. And while a more than two-month delay in responding to Collins’ latest FOI demand may be easier to rationalize, it does suggest the emergence of a troubling pattern. An administration that is acting properly, which has nothing to hide, should be eager to respond to such requests. The failure to respond promptly instead creates suspicions.

It does not appear to be a chronic problem with this administration. The FOI Commission has a half-dozen appeals pending — half from 2020, half from 2021 — complaining that the Office of the Governor failed to comply with, or comply adequately to, FOI requests. Two of the complaints are from Mr. Collins. This is not an exorbitant number, but it begs the question as to why responses to the State Pier inquiries are among the few that have lagged, necessitating complaints?

There were signs Tuesday that the Lamont administration was finally getting the message. Doug Dalena, deputy general counsel for the Office of the Governor, emailed Collins, stating: “The review of responsive documents to your request for emails between OTG and David Kooris is almost complete. I expect to have responsive, non-exempt documents to you later this week.”

Dalena stated his office has also begun a search for correspondences between the Office of the Governor and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection concerning the State Pier project. “If the volume of documents returned from that search is small, we might be able to expedite the review of this request,” Dalena wrote to Collins.

We’re glad to hear it and hope this isn’t Lucy about to pull the football away again. It shouldn’t take this long, or be this hard, to get information that is clearly public in nature under the rules of the FOI Act. It starts with Gov. Lamont sending a clear message to members of his administration and legal team that transparency is a priority, and that includes responding to FOI requests within a reasonable time frame.

 

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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