In late June 2019, I had the distinct honor of becoming the president of this amazing organization. About six months later, we all learned a new word: COVID. What a curveball! All of the normal activities of CFOG came to a screeching halt, along with the rest of the world, and we had to adjust as we pivoted to a new paradigm. Thankfully, we had the dedication of the CFOG board to the CFOG mission – educate and inform on the importance of open government – and the energy to not only continue on during COVID, but to thrive.
Indeed, during and notwithstanding COVID, CFOG continued to put on its annual Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of the Past Year event. Initially this was virtual and then became a hybrid event, but each year since COVID, this event has grown in importance and content. Moderated by our CFOG board member Leslie Mayes and put on by a dedicated committee, the event has educated all of us on the hard work done by professional journalists behind the scenes to bring us some of the biggest stories in Connecticut each year. We owe these professionals a debt of gratitude as they inspire and inform us on critical issues in our state.
In 2021, CFOG also put on, after a COVID delay of game, its Walter Cronkite Dinner and Award (normally held every five years). With the support of numerous donors, including lead sponsor Connecticut Public, we honored Judy Woodruff for her lifetime achievements as one of our country’s leading journalists. At the in-person dinner at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Judy inspired all of us with her words on the importance of what reporters do and the democratic necessity of a free and open press. Judy joined a long list of other Cronkite Award winners including Bob Woodward, Jim Lehrer, and Walter Cronkite. Thanks to the many CFOG board members who labored to make this packed-house event such a success.
During COVID, CFOG also established what we know will be one of our most enduring events and honors: the annual Mitchell W. Pearlman Freedom of Information Award. Mitch hardly needs an introduction as one of the leading scholars on and promoters of open government and Freedom of Information not only in Connecticut, but also around the world. His efforts have influenced and touched countless individuals, and it is fitting that CFOG honor him for these achievements. CFOG gave the first awards in honor of Mitch at the Mark Twain House in 2022 and looks forward to honoring Mitch’s legacy in 2023 and beyond as we honor journalists, public officials, and ordinary residents of the state who have made a difference in ensuring we can see our government at work. Again, thank you to the many CFOG board members who worked so hard to make this inaugural event such a success.
Finally, although COVID certainly affected countless students around Connecticut and the country, CFOG continued its annual High School Essay Contest and its $1,000 top prize during COVID. Each year the winning essay demonstrates the scholarly insights of our high school students, and the past several years were no exception (this year we have over 70 entries that the committee has to read and review). Congratulations to each of the winners for their submissions.
As you can undoubtedly tell from the foregoing list of just some of CFOG’s successes during the past few years, CFOG remains a strong and successful organization due entirely to the efforts of its board. I am grateful for the hard work and time that so many board members have given to this organization to promote our mission to educate and inform on issues relevant to open government. Open and transparent government is so essential to a successful democracy that one would like to believe that someday, the work of CFOG and others would become unnecessary on this front. Sadly, of course, that is not the case and the CFOG mission is as important today as it was in 1991 when the founders of CFOG created this organization. As stated by one of our board members in the CFOG brochure on our website: “Having an open, transparent government is what enables citizens to hold our leaders accountable.”
Although I am sad to say this is my last column as president, I also know that CFOG will continue to grow and strengthen through the efforts of the officers and board members who follow me. I am so pleased to leave this organization in their capable hands and to become a (mere) hard-working board member along with my many friends and colleagues at CFOG who are dedicated to educating and informing on open government in Connecticut.
President William S. Fish, Jr.