Photos by Patrick Raycraft
The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) recently honored a Hearst Connecticut Media investigative reporter, a state Judicial Branch official and a local blogger with its second annual Mitchell W. Pearlman Freedom of Information Award.
The award honors government officials, journalists or residents of Connecticut who have made significant efforts to foster transparency in government, disclose information vital to the public and ensure that state residents can see their government at work. It’s named for Mitchell W. Pearlman, the founding executive director of Connecticut’s FOI Commission, who is recognized as an international expert on government transparency, privacy and data protection and freedom of the press.
Journalist Bill Cummings was selected for his groundbreaking story in August 2022 that revealed that Connecticut state troopers had been accused in 2018 of fabricating traffic stop tickets for professional gain. Cummings had used the state Freedom of Information Act to obtain internal affairs documents after spotting “fictitious traffic tickets” in a log he had received after an earlier FOI request.
The official honored for fostering open government is Rhonda Stearley-Hebert, the deputy director of communications, education and outreach for the state Judicial Branch. She stood out among other nominees for her accessibility to the media as she responds to hundreds of inquiries a year, including requests for cameras in the courtroom, following rules set by judges.
In the general public category, CFOG selected Kevin Brookman, a blogger who has doggedly used the FOI Act to uncover critical issues in Hartford government. In selecting Brookman, CFOG noted that he has gained the trust of Hartford residents and community activists who have given him documents that accused city officials of wrongdoing when they feared retaliation. While educating himself and others on how to use the FOI Act, Brookman has exposed issues at City Hall, in the city school system and the Hartford fire and police departments through his “We the People” blog. He said that without the FOI Act, much of this information would be hidden from public view and would never see public accountability.
Kate Farrish, CFOG’s president and an assistant professor of journalism at Central Connecticut State University, said “Our honorees were chosen from a strong field of many deserving candidates,” Farrish said. “Our three winners stood out for their hard work and perseverance, their many years of dedication to government transparency and their use of the FOI Act to inform the public of matters of crucial importance in a democracy.”
Farrish thanked the Pearlman Award Committee, co-chairs David Fink and Denis Horgan and members Len Besthoff, William S. Fish, Jr., Christopher Henderson, Izaskun Larrañeta, Arielle Levin Becker, Matthew Kauffman, Leslie Mayes and Colleen Murphy, for their hard work in honoring those who are following the legacy of Mitchell W. Pearlman.