Connecticut FOI Commission admonishes municipalities for illegal meetings, illegal fees

hortly after the Bridgeport City Council’s budget committee opened its meeting last May, Councilwoman Jeannette Herron took up the first order of business with a directive to members of the public.

“Okay, everybody out,” she declared.

“Make a motion,” Council President Aidee Nieves said, followed by a city attorney saying something — it was partly inaudible as council members talked over each other — about pending litigation.

“I make a motion to go into executive session for whatever he said,” Councilwoman Christina Smith offered.

Said another: “All in favor?”

That, it turns out, is not how executive sessions are supposed to happen in Connecticut. And Wednesday, the state’s Freedom of Information Commission declared last May’s secret meeting illegal and ordered Bridgeport to create minutes of the gathering and schedule a training session on the law. That training is mandatory for all members of the city’s Budget and Appropriations Committee. City attorneys, meanwhile, “are strongly encouraged to attend.”

That misstep over an executive session was among several frequent disputes that regularly make their way to the FOI Commission. On Wednesday, the commission was also called upon to instruct public agencies that committee members can’t engage in official discussions by email, and that if a requester asks for electronic records, agencies can’t print them out and demand payment for them.

In the Bridgeport case, the commission noted that it has “repeatedly stated” that agencies seeking to go behind closed doors “must give some indication of the specific topic to be addressed.” Generic terms such as “personnel” or “legal” aren’t enough, the commission ruled. (Read more…)