NB Politicus

Mayor, Council At Odds Over FOI Again

Posted in city politics and government, FOI by nbpoliticus on March 24, 2008

Any person denied the right to inspect or copy records under section 1-210 or wrongfully denied the right to attend any meeting of a public agency or denied any other right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act may appeal therefrom to the Freedom of Information Commission, by filing a notice of appeal with said commission.

Excerpt from Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act

The public’s right to know has become a surprisingly controversial issue since last November’s municipal election, putting the Republican Mayor at odds with the Democratic City Council.

In December, the Council adopted an ordinance without the Mayor’s signature that requires city departments to release records and information in a timely manner when requested to do so by members of the Common Council. The ordinance apparently stemmed from some foot dragging on information access at City Hall. In one instance, Democrats sought information for legislators researching data for a bill that would create a Health Care Partnership Act, enabling cities to join the state health insurance pool and reduce insurance costs. When a legislative aide working for House Majority Leader Chris Donovan (D-Meriden) asked the city Finance Department about the number of city employees and health premium costs he was promptly turned down and told the request would have to be approved by the Mayor.

In January, Republican Town Chair Paul Carver, perhaps in retaliation for the FOI ordinance, filed a formal complaint with the state commission contending that Council Majority Leader Mike Trueworthy did not identify a nominee to the Mattabasett District Commission on a meeting agenda despite the posting of the vacancy on the agenda. Democrats have called Carver’s complaint “frivolous.” The Commission has yet to take up the complaint amid predictions from Democrats that Carver’s complaint will be quickly dismissed.

This month a second ordinance has been proposed by Ward 4 Councillor Phil Sherwood (Photo) that would essentially establish a local Freedom of Information act. The FOI law and the 37-year-old state FOI Commission is the arbiter of all complaints at the local and state level. But Sherwood and others on the Council feel that open meetings and access to public records need to be clearly spelled out at the local level.

The Stewart Administration didn’t help itself when the Board of Finance and Taxation, deliberating over the city budget, kicked New Britain Herald Reporter Rick Guinness out of its meeting. The newspaper has responded in kind, according to a march 24th Herald story:

In the past month, elected and appointed city officials, including Mayor Timothy Stewart, have barred access to public meetings, prompting The Herald to file complaints with the Freedom of Information Commission. The city must send a city attorney to Hartford, at taxpayer expense, to justify the actions.

These recent actions are raising the possibility that the Stewart administration is skirting if not violating the spirit and letter of Freedom of Information laws. Stewart and his Council minority leader, Lou Salvio, are likely to argue that such an ordinance is unnecessary at the local level. Salvio, arguing against the first FOI ordinance, claimed that he did not have any difficulty obtaining the information he needed. Democrats, however, say that is the point. Republicans, they say, are playing a partisan game even when it comes to public access to data and open doors at public meetings.

While the state FOI Commission has ultimate jurisdiction and enforcement power, it has been very supportive of some form of local FOI oversight since a 1999 statewide survey found “disappointing results” of compliance with the FOI Act by local government.

The state Commission, in fact, has adopted a local “model” ordinance that calls for establishing a municipal FOI Advisory Board — not quite a model FOI ordinance but a move designed to reduce the small commission’s large caseload.

Colleen M. Murphy, the FOI Commission’s Executive Director and General Counsel, advocated for a local advisory group in an article “Freedom of Information Advisory Boards Will Benefit Citizens and Public Officials Alike”:

“Why should municipalities take such a step? The answer is simple: the creation of these advisory boards will go a long way toward resolving FOI questions well before they turn into full-blown disputes. The function of the municipal advisory board is to act as a liaison, to citizens and public officials, as well as to the FOI Commission. Members of advisory boards will be trained in the application of the FOI Act to issues of local concern


Murphy, making her case for municipal advisory groups, said they would “demonstrate a municipality’s commitment to the concept of open government.”

City Councillor Sherwood appears to be making the same argument in calling for what would amount to a municipal Freedom of Information Act if the ordinance to be considered by the City Council is adopted.

Stewart may charge that the open government ordinance is just another example of “partisan sniping” at his administration and that it’s his prerogative to maintain control over the flow of information at City Hall. But even a mayor in the strongest of strong-mayor forms of government has to realize at some point that withholding publc records and closing the door on open meetings is the wrong way to go.

Foreign Intelligence, Telecom Immunity Evokes Same Old Fear Mongering Against Cong. Murphy

Posted in Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on March 16, 2008

Criticism over a U.S. House debate on a Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) re authorization by Rep. Chris Murphy’s prospective Republican opponent shows the GOP is turning early to divisive fear tactics on issues of national security and fighting terrorism in 2008.

Danbury GOP State Senator David Capiello, in a statement appearing in a New Britain Herald story by Scott Whipple, knocked Murphy and the House leadership for holding up a Senate-approved bill that grants retroactive immunity to telecom companies, leaving the Bush Administration free to spy on Americans in the name of national security without any constitutional safeguards. Abuse of intelligence gathering capabilities contributed, in part, to the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez last year.

Capiello contends that retroactive immunity for telecom companies and warrant-less wiretaps should be allowed despite a 1978 FISA law that provides the government with immediate spying capabilities so long as warrants are obtained within three days of the intelligence gathering. “I hate the idea of it being a campaign issue,” Cappiello was quoted as saying. “I see it as a national security issue. It’s an American issue. I hope it will be resolved so it won’t become a campaign issue.” Capiello appears to be drawing on the playbook of former Cong. Nancy Johnson who swamped the airwaves in 2006 with attacks on Murphy inferring that the Democrat would aid and abet terrorists. By saying “it’s an American issue” Capiello implicitly questions Murphy’s patriotism — the same tactic used by Johnson’s failed re-election campaign.

Murphy is on record as saying “it is dishonest to say that the expiration of the Protect America Act means the country can’t survive. Currently, the attorney general can approve surveillance within minutes; approval from the FISA court can be obtained in three days. The government simply begins the wiretap and goes to FISA court for retroactive approval.”

Rep. Murphy supports modifying the federal FISA law “to meet current threats” but takes issue with the Republicans for exploiting the issue “for partisan political gain.” To Murphy and other House Democrats, Bush and the Republicans are holding up the re authorization in order to protect telecommunication companies for infringing on the privacy for millions of Americans. Democrats are asserting the intelligence gathering is needed without breaking the law and revealing personal information about law-abiding citizens.

Murphy and House Democrats are taking up where Senator Chris Dodd left off in the U.S. Senate. Dodd valiantly opposed telecom immunity in the Senate and for a time was able to delay its passage in a stand against Bush’ intransigence and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s indifference. In January Dodd framed the issue in a statement on the Senate floor: “More and more, Americans are rejecting the false choice that has come to define this administration: security or liberty, but never, ever both. It speaks volumes about the president’s estimation of the American people that he expects them to accept that choice. The truth, though, is that shielding corporations from lawsuits does absolutely nothing for our security. I challenge the president to prove otherwise. I challenge him to show us how putting these companies above the law makes us safer by an iota.”

One Way To Promote Job Growth and Stability: Eliminate Tuition At State’s Public Colleges

Posted in economic development, public education by nbpoliticus on March 10, 2008

The earning power of college graduates versus those whose highest attainment is a high school diploma favors the former by a wide margin. In central Connecticut, it doesn’t really matter anymore if you want a job as an analyst at an insurance company or fill out an application at a small manufacturer to build parts on the shop floor. You will need post-secondary skills to fill decent paying jobs in our regional economy.

That’s what makes State Rep. Timothy O’Brien’s legislation to eliminate in-state tuition for students at UCONN, the state universities and the community colleges intriguing. So intriguing that O’Brien’s proposal has drawn considerable press coverage, including a February 21 story in the Meriden Record-Journal.

House Bill 5261 “will eliminate all tuition and fees for in-state residents” and proposes “that funding be increased to offset the costs” of eliminating in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. While many would call the O’Brien idea unaffordable, the need to make college and post-secondary training opportunities available is broadly recognized as a key to retaining jobs and a stronger economy.

O’Brien’s idea is not new. Free public education is an idea deeply rooted in the American egalitarian ideal. Once upon time California was a K-graduate school system without tuitions and fees. And last year MA Governor Duval Patrick, a business friendly Democrat, proposed a guarantee that the 12 community colleges in his state be open and tuition-free.

According to the Record Journal, O’Brien recognizes the current reliance on student tuition and fees to meet operating costs: “O’Brien’s bill would require students who did not pay tuition and fees for the duration of college to pay a fixed rate for a certain amount of time after they graduate, depending on their income. If they move out of state, however, the students would be required to pay back the full amount.”

Says O’Brien: “I introduced this legislation because I think that it is time that Connecticut start talking about the fact that high tuition and fees at our public institutions of higher education is a growing barrier to a college education for many people in our state, even if good financial aid is available for students.” O’Brien emphasizes that the bill is also an effort to stem a “brain drain” that will encourage young people to stay in Connecticut.

While O’Brien concedes that House Bill 5261 will likely go no where in a short legislative session. He knows it opens an important discussion on educational access and economic policy that will not end with the close of the General Assembly this year.

Post originally appeared at http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com

A Brief History of Delegates And Super Delegates

Posted in Presidential Politics by nbpoliticus on March 3, 2008

The origins of pledged delegates chosen in caucuses and primaries and “super delegates” are getting much more scrutiny with no resolution in the Clinton versus Obama race. That was the case at the Feb. 21st New Britain Democratic Town Committee meeting. DTC member Butch Wierbicki, a United Auto Workers retiree, asked with a tone of suspicion in his voice where and when did the super delegates come from?

The earlier-than-ever Iowa and New Hampshire face offs and the front-loading of many primaries were supposed to make curiosity about delegates a moot point. Last December conventional wisdom held that New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who had already signed up a good share of the “super delegates”, would be the inevitable nominee before one rank and file Democrat went to vote in a caucus or primary.

Butch Wierbicki is not alone in wondering about super delegates. Many Democrats and observers are asking and wondering about delegate selection because every delegate vote now matters. You’ve heard the numbers. The Democratic nominee will need 2,025 delegate votes out of more than 4,000 for the nomination at the national convention in Denver in August. As of March 1, both Clinton and Obama had amassed over 1,000 delegates each for the stretch run. Obama is holding an advantage after 11 straight primary and caucus victories and the early favorite Clinton is seeking a comeback on March 4th and the April 22nd primary in Pennsylvania.

The delegate make up of the 2008 Democratic National Convention springs from two conflicting trends in the Democratic Party over the last 40 years. One (grassroots) is to empower the rank and file to select the nominee. Delegates pledged to a candidate at the district level are the grassroots. The other (top-down) is to allow party potentates to have an automatic voice to determine the nominees, party platforms and rules. These are the super delegates, officially known as “Party Leaders and Elected Officials (PLEOs)” as stipulated in national party bylaws.

In 1968, a fractious national convention torn up by the Vietnam War made concessions to reformers to review rules for a more open selection process. The result was the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which established a process that gave grassroots people, union members and minorities a greater chance at becoming delegates. The more “democratic” rules took effect in 1972 when former Senator George McGovern (who led the commission) became the nominee.

In 1982, the pendulum had swung the other way. According to www.superdelegates.org: “As the Democratic Party increased their use of primaries and caucuses to select delegates during the 1960s and 1970s, intra-party criticism continued, with the opinion expressed that some control of the nomination process should remain among party elites. Although the McGovern-Fraser reforms insured significant primary delegate representation by the 1972 National Convention, Democratic presidential defeats in 1972 and 1980, and the surprise success of then-outsider candidate Jimmy Carter’s nomination in 1976, increased the call for more control being vested with Party leaders.”

Enter the Hunt Commission (led by then North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt). Hunt’s group established the super delegates representing 15% of the convention — a percentage that has since grown to 20% of all delegates. Former Cong. and 1984 Vice Presidential Nominee Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, defended super delegates in a February 25th Op-Ed article in the New York Times: “So we created super delegates and gave that designation to every Democratic member of Congress. Today the 796 super delegates also include Democratic governors, former presidents and vice presidents, and members of the Democratic National Committee and former heads of the national committee. These super delegates, we reasoned, are the party’s leaders. They are the ones who can bring together the most liberal members of our party with the most conservative and reach accommodation. They would help write the platform. They would determine if a delegate should be seated. They would help determine the rules. And having done so, they would have no excuse to walk away from the party or its presidential nominee.”

In reality, super delegates are an attempt to put a little bit of the “smoke-filled room” back into the process. They are meant as a counterweight to the reforms adopted following the McGovern-Fraser Commission that paved the way for proportional delegate selection and the opportunity for rank and file Democrats (not party regulars) to become delegates.

Super delegates have every right to lead as Ms. Ferraro suggests, but they also need to heed what primary voters and district delegates want in 2008 if the Democratic nominee is to prevail in November. There can be no turning back the clock to “party bosses” and the smoke filled rooms of yesteryear. Unlike 1972, Democrats will have the best chance of winning the Presidency by upholding the open and democratic reforms that allowed the grassroots to get to conventions nearly 40 years ago.

In Connecticut, separate Clinton and Obama caucuses will be held on March 19th in each Congressional District to pick the delegates pledged to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Reflecting the popular vote of Feb. 5th, Obama will have the edge on pledged district delegates (It’s 3 to 3 in the 5th Congressional District). Additional at-large delegates will be selected by district delegates after the caucuses. There are 11 super delegates from Connecticut, including Senator Dodd and the four Democratic members of Congress. Dodd and U.S. Reps. Murphy, DeLauro and Larson have swung to Obama. The other superdelegates include National Committee members Ellen Camhi, Anthony Avallone, Steve Fontana and John Olsen, State Party Chair Nancy DiNardo and New Haven’s Marty DunLeavy who gains his status by virtue of being a member of the National Democratic Party’s “ethnic coordinating committee.” More information is available at www.ctdems.org