NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Federation of Teachers has filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Board of Education and its Finance Committee.
“Another unfortunate example of the NFT choosing antagonism and conflict over cooperation. But that’s its new leadership’s approach,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said, declining further comment.
The complaint stems from the June 8 Finance Committee meeting, where Chairman Bryan Meek announced that he had “socialized” a list of possible cuts and reached a consensus with BoE members. It requests that the Freedom of Information Commission levy civil fines against Meek and Lyons, and the BoE itself, and suggests that all documents be released to the public before meetings.
NFT President Mary Yordon alleges three violations in the complaint mailed Thursday to the Freedom of Information Commission:
- “The first violation involves the conduct of un-noticed, secret meetings by the circulation of a budget cut list among Board of Education members with the intention of gaining consensus for the cuts before they were introduced.”
- “The second violation involves the conduct of un-noticed, secret meetings of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee by the circulation of the same budget cut list among Finance Committee members with the intention of gaining consensus for the cuts before they were introduced at the regularly-scheduled Finance Committee meeting of June 8, 2017.”
- “The third violation involves a misleading Finance Committee Agenda which failed to disclose that specific budget cuts (that had been included on the ‘consensus’ cut-list document) which were to be voted on at the Finance Committee meeting of June 8, 2017.”
NancyOnNorwalk had already asked Lyons about a potential FOI violation with the “consensus” announced by Meek, before Yordon’s complaint was released to the media.
“There is a ‘consensus’ of the Finance Committee; the full Board hasn’t agreed on one,” Lyons wrote in an email. “The Board members were provided with a ‘master list’ of possible cuts by Dr. Adamowksi. I asked Board members to send Bryan Meek, as Finance Committee chair, any suggestions they had in terms of those proposals (knowing we needed to hit around $2.3 million in cuts to balance the budget). I believe most members did send him suggestions, and he included that feedback in his own recommendations to the Committee. The lists differed, so there was no consensus on all cuts; it was just information gathering for the Committee. I believe Bryan, in saying ‘consensus’, was referring to the recommendations that showed up on everyone’s individual lists. So, no FOI issue that I can see.”
Meek did not immediately respond to an email.
On June 8, after the Committee meeting, he said, “We knew about the cuts a couple of weeks ago and I have been forging consensus.”
The Board is “85-95 percent in agreement,” he said.
Yordon quotes the June 9 NoN article in her complaint.
“No notice was provided to the public concerning the creation of the ‘cut-list’, its circulation among Board of Education Finance Committee members or the intention that consensus was being sought among the Finance Committee members,” the NFT complaint states. “Therefore, these meetings were conducted without proper notice to the public and violated the Freedom of Information Act.”
“Compounding the impropriety of the secret meetings that had been conduct among members of the Finance Committee and among members of the Board of Education is that the so-called ‘cut list’ was not made public prior to the start of the June 8th meeting and the public was denied any opportunity to address the Finance Committee at that June 8th meeting,” the complaint states, going on to assert that the circulation of a list constitutes a meeting, without proper notice to the public.
Although the list was not circulated, Pathways Academy at Briggs high school students were aware that their school was on the list of possible cuts. Students held a protest June 1 at City Hall, and some attended the June 8 Finance Committee meeting.
The agenda’s line item, “Review and approve recommendations relative to FY 2017-18 budget reconciliation” was inadequate, NFT states.
“At the time the agenda was published, the Finance Committee Chairperson did have a document which detailed specific line items to be cut, and information as to which of those possible cuts had been approved by its members. Therefore, despite knowing the specific action he intended to undertake upon reaching the ‘reconciliation’ line item, the Chairperson refused to provide that detail on his agenda. Consequently, the agenda failed to comply with the requirement that an agenda be published twenty-four hours before a meeting of a public agency.”
In addition to levying the “maximum allowable fine” as relief for the violations, NFT requests that the BoE be required to post all documents that have been provided to its members within 24 hours of that release, and at least 24 hours before BoE meetings begin.
It further requests that the BoE be “enjoined from distributing among themselves any document or communication which pertains to any matter within its jurisdiction unless such document is first posted on a publicly accessible website.”