CT Foundation for Open Government Announces Winners of First Pearlman FOI Award

The Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG) is pleased to announce that a former state comptroller, a state official, a clinic at Yale Law School and a columnist for The Day of New London have been selected to receive the inaugural Mitchell W. Pearlman Freedom of Information Award.

The award honors government officials, journalists or residents of Connecticut who had made significant efforts to foster transparency in government, disclose information vital to the public and ensure that citizens can see their government at work.

The officials being honored for their promotion of open and accountable government are Kevin Lembo, Connecticut’s state comptroller from 2011 thru 2021, and Tom Hennick, the public information officer of the state Freedom of Information Commission. He has filled that role since 2000.

CFOG has also selected David Collins of The Day, the newspaper’s full-time columnist since 2008, for his relentless series of columns revealing ethical breaches, cost overruns and a lack of transparency at the Connecticut Port Authority, a key agency that is shaping the economic and environmental future of New London County.

In the general public category, CFOG has selected Yale’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA), a student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers and protecting freedom of expression. It has provided pro bono representation to journalists and documentarians, trained a generation of law students in defending media freedom and most recently, through its Algorithmic Accountability Project, revealed that some state agencies do not take sufficient measures to ensure the algorithms they use are working effectively and fairly.

The winners were honored at a reception on Thursday, Nov. 10 at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford.

The award honors Pearlman, the founding executive director of Connecticut’s FOI Commission, who is recognized as an international expert on government transparency, privacy and data protection, freedom of the press and administrative law. He has consulted with officials in over 20 nations and various U.S. states and Canadian provinces and has testified as an expert witness before the U.S. Congress.

William S. Fish Jr., CFOG’s president and a partner in the law firm Hinckley Allen, said the winners were selected by a committee of CFOG board members from an impressive list of accomplished people nominated by Connecticut newsroom leaders, activists, officials, journalists and residents.

“Any one of the nominees would have been deserving as we prepare to present our first Pearlman Awards,’’ Fish said. “Our four winners, however, stood out for their many years of dedication to government transparency, for promoting open and accountable government and their use of the state Freedom of Information Act to inform the public of matters of extreme importance.”

In citing Lembo, CFOG said that rather than sticking to the narrowest definition of the state comptroller’s job – keeping the state’s books and watching over the state’s money ¬– he made clear in word and deed that they are the people’s books and the people’s money. He worked strenuously to ensure that the people could clearly see every fiscal aspect of state government.

His OpenConnecticut collection of online tools have provided the public with unprecedented access to state financial information. It includes an accounting of state expenditures and revenues, an up-to-date record of employee and retiree compensation, budget and spending information for quasi-public agencies and a do-it-yourself tool to view the effect of tax and revenue changes. As a result, Connecticut is viewed as a national leader in financial transparency.

In choosing Hennick, CFOG said that he is one of the most reliable and invaluable employees to ever work at the FOI Commission. He has conducted thousands of training and education sessions all over the state and is close to achieving his goal of holding a session in each of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut.

Through his warmth and knowledge of the FOI Act, Hennick has made the concept of open government accessible and relatable to public officials and residents alike. He recently retired, but has returned to the FOI Commission on a part-time basis.
Collins joined the staff of The Day newsroom after graduating from Connecticut College in New London in 1979. He grew up in a newspaper family and worked summers for the Baltimore News American and The Providence Journal.

At The Day, he covered most major beats over the years, earning numerous New England journalism awards. He later became the city editor, supervising the newspaper’s principal beat staff.

His columns on State Pier and the port authority stood out for the Pearlman committee, which said his frequent use of the FOI Act enabled him to uncover corruption at the authority, leading to resignations from the board chairwoman and a past board chairman.

In selecting MFIA, CFOG cited the clinic’s important work using the FOI Act to reveal shortcomings in state agencies’ use of algorithms and its representation of Madison Hamburg, director of the “Murder at Middle Beach” documentary about his mother’s murder. Established in 2009 by four Yale Law School students, the clinic has provided pro bono representation to independent journalists, news organizations, public interest organizations and academic researchers. Its practice focuses on the state and federal courts in Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia, but it has represented clients as far away as Arizona, Florida and Nebraska.

Fish thanked the Pearlman Award Committee, co-chairs David Fink and Denis Horgan and members Len Besthoff, Kate Farrish, Izaskun Larraneta, Matthew Kauffman, Leslie Mayes and Colleen Murphy, for their hard work in honoring Pearlman.