NEFAC names FOI and right-to-know award winners

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (January 25, 2013) — One pursued a nine-year crusade that yielded an order refunding $53 million to New Hampshire public employees. The other cracked a shell of silence to expose misconduct in the New Britain, Conn., Police Department.

Both are being recognized by the New England First Amendment Coalition with first-time presentations: David Lang, a retired firefighter and president of the The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, with the Citizen Right to Know Award and reporter Don Stacom of The Hartford Courant with the FOI Award.

They'll be honored at NEFAC's annual luncheon Feb. 8 along with Philip Balboni, NECN founder and GlobalPost co-founder, who will receive the third annual Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.

NEFAC President Mary Jane Wilkinson said the honors for Lang and Stacom are an extension of NEFAC's right-to-know advocacy mission.

"We are very excited about introducing two new awards at this year's luncheon – one to honor a citizen who has fought to gain access to public records and one to a New England journalist who has overcome obstacles in using freedom of information requests," she said.

"Both awards recognize perseverance that results in significant information being made available to the public."

Lang was on the board of the Local Government Center's HealthTrust division that runs its risk management pool when he became convinced the nonprofit was mismanaging its member communities' health insurance premiums.

The LGC provides member communities with multiple services, including the pool which gives member communities and school districts more leverage in buying health insurance for employees.

Saying the LGC was improperly using surpluses that should have been returned to its members to fund other ventures, Lang left the board in 2003 and used the state's Right To Know Law to obtain LGC documents that helped yield the refund order. The LGC is appealing the decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Despite New Britain's efforts to bottle up information on misconduct in its police department – efforts that continue – the Courant's Don Stacom pursued the stories for months through the state's Freedom of Information Commission and won.

His reporting uncovered numerous stories of misconduct, among them:

  • a $95,000 a year captain who repeatedly had on-duty sex with women and lied to investigators when confronted. He received a full pension and a payout of more than $100,000 after being pressured into retirement.
  • a sergeant with 26 years in the department was allowed to retire shortly before a hearing into his misuse of the state's online crime data system to check on a man he suspected was dating his wife.
  • city officials told a detective from nearby Southington to stop an investigation after he concluded Police Chief William Gagliardi's son had stolen city property and auctioned it off on eBay.
  • Chief Gagliardi retired under pressure and the city appointed a reform administration.

The awards luncheon will be held in conjunction with the New England Newspaper & Press Association's 2013 convention and trade show at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. Tickets may be purchased on NEFAC's Web site.

– – – –

NEFAC is a member of NFOIC. NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public's right to know. We're a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, librarians, academics and private citizens.