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Students discover poor compliance with Connecticut FOI laws

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Freedom of Information         Dec 18, 2001    

Students discover poor compliance with Connecticut FOI laws

  • A recent study from Southern Connecticut State University finds only 10 of 68 state agencies granting access to public records.

Stephanie Tsolas walked into the Office of the Victim Advocate on March 23 seeking work attendance records of the Connecticut state advocate but instead got a tongue lashing from the state advocate himself, she said.

Tsolas, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, said James Papillo swore at her and berated her for asking for the record. She said Papillo grabbed her arm and threatened to call the police.

She never got the records.

Tsolas’ story is just one narrative from a study conducted by students of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven to gauge the compliance level of state agencies with the state’s Freedom of Information laws. The study, released Nov. 19, found that only 10 of 68 state agencies followed the law.

The survey comes only two years after another study conducted by reporters in the state found that only 39 of the state’s 181 municipalities and state police departments were in full compliance of the FOI laws.

Harry Hammitt, publisher of Access Reports, said in an analysis for the students’ report that Connecticut can boast of some of the strongest FOI laws and one of the best oversight agencies in the country. He blamed the poor showing on a lack of staff educated in FOI matters.

“The troops in the trenches are either falling asleep at their posts or missing their mark,” Hammitt wrote. “While education and incentives may not solve the problem, they are the best avenue to pursue.”

On March 23, journalism students at Southern Connecticut visited every state agency to ask for work attendance records for the top officials and highest-paid employees there. The state Supreme Court has determined that such records are public information.

The students found that 10 of the 68 agencies offered the records readily while 20 agencies did not comply.

Of the remaining 38 agencies, students reported that officials either required the students to give them their names, asked why they wanted the information or demanded written requests for the information. All three actions violate the state’s FOI laws.

Like Tsolas, several students said they were required to sign for visitor badges when visiting the state offices. One student reported a visit from state police after the Department of Veterans Affairs denied his records request.

Papillo could not be reached for comment, but he told the New Haven Register that students had breached security, causing some employees to fear for their safety. He apologized for “any misunderstandings” but defended his decision not to disclose the records.

PT

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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