|NMU||CONNECTICUT||Freedom of Information|
City council orders release of former mayor’s cell phone records
- The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission twice ordered that cell-phone records of then-Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim be released, but he refused to cooperate, and when he resigned, the city council took action.
April 23, 2003 — The cell phone billing records of former Bridgeport, Conn., Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, originally requested by the (Bridgeport) Connecticut Post in 2001, were released to the newspaper after Ganim resigned April 4.
MariAn Brown, a staff reporter for the Post, requested the cell phone records after learning Ganim was the target of an FBI corruption probe. She also requested the information because she said she believes that it is healthy for the public to know how an elected official is using a government resource supported by taxpayers.
“It’s a relief to finally get these records and get to do what we wanted to do two years ago,” Brown said.
The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission ruled in favor of the newspaper’s document requests in June 2002, but Ganim initially released only records for 1997 and part of 1998. The Post had requested more recent records, which the city claimed no longer existed.
In March, the Commission again ruled in favor of the Post, ordering the city to request billing records from its cellular service vendors in order to comply with the newspaper’s FOI Act request.
Not until after Ganim resigned April 4 did the city begin to release recent records to the Post. After John M. Fabrizi became Bridgeport’s mayor April 7, the city attorney released some records to the Post. Not all records have been released yet.
“I’m very glad the city is now respecting the authority of the Freedom of Information Commission,” Brown said. She added that the new administration apparently wants to foster a more open relationship compatible with the goals of the FOI Act.
The records that have been released so far show that Ganim regularly used his city-issued cell phone for personal use, including to call co-conspirators in a kickback scheme of which he was convicted in March. According to Brown, Ganim spent more than $250 a month on cell phone calls for four and one-half years. The charges against him included racketeering, bribery, extortion, mail fraud and other crimes.
“I’m very grateful to our publisher for getting outside legal counsel. We really needed the legal expertise to get those records,” Brown said, noting how difficult it can be for a small newspaper to oppose a government body, which has more resources.
(FIC Op. No. 2002-034; Media Counsel: Alan Neigher, Westport, Conn.) — KD
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press