By Mike Savino
Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information
The Connecticut Council of Freedom of Information had a fantastic awards event recently, celebrating champions who helped advance the FOI Act, and we’re hoping to ride that momentum into 2024.
We changed our annual awards ceremony to an evening cocktail event, this time hosting it at the Hartford Club in downtown Hartford on Sept. 20. By all accounts, the event was a great success and we had our best attendance in years!
The event was also a celebration of a very successful year on the advocacy front. Most years, we use our awards to thank people who helped defend the FOI Act from harmful exemptions. This year we were able to recognize lawmakers, journalists and advocates who helped us expand the public’s right to know.
We gave our Bice Clemow Award to state Sens. James Maroney and Cathy Osten. Maroney crafted legislation regulating the government’s use of artificial intelligence and algorithms when making decisions or performing duties. He worked with us to ensure transparency is part of that process. Osten, meanwhile, included funding in the new state budget that allows the Freedom of Information Commission to hire much needed attorneys to help adjudicate cases.
We also honored three Hearst Connecticut Media Group Reporters — Jacqueline Rabe Thomes, Joshua Eaton, and Brian Lockhart — with our Stephen A. Collins Award for their work exposing Bridgeport’s backlog in complying with FOIA requests. Based on their reporting, lawmakers even increased the maximum fine for public agencies who violate FOIA to $5,000.
Lastly, we recognized two Champions of Open Government. Attorney Kelsey Eberly, formerly of Yale’s Media Freedom and Information Access clinic, helped us craft language that Maroney used in his bill. And FOI Commission Managing Director and General Counsel Paula Pearlman has been a tremendous help to us during the lobbying process.
We now shift our focus to the 2024 legislative session. We’re working to undo our one defeat during this year, when the legislature exempted whistleblower complaints from FOIA. We’re now pushing lawmakers to require the Auditors of Public Accounts to at least provide a brief summary of each complaint.
We’re also currently working on our legislative agenda for the next session. Please let us know of any issues you think we should take on.