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Oak Hills Park Authority member suggests FOI violation

Norwalk Oak Hills Feb. 13 2013 116
From left, Oak Hills Park Authority members Bob Virgulak, Clyde Mount and Ernie Desrochers listen last Feburary to a presentation about old plans for a driving range at the park.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk activists say they were surprised last week when a member of the Oak Hills Park Authority suggested voting by email, away from the public eye.

“All votes of public agencies must be taken publicly and recorded,” said Thomas Hennick of the Freedom of Information Commission in an email. “Any votes ‘behind the scenes’ would, in my opinion, be a clear violation of the FOI Act.”

In other words, breaking a law.

Diane Cece and Elsa Peterson Obuchowski attended the Sept. 19 OHPA meeting, which coincided with a Zoning Commission meeting, which occupied this reporter. Cece recorded it, and shared the recording with NancyOnNorwalk.

Cece identifies a voice on the recording at that of Clyde Mount.

Mount was talking about a contract with a marketing firm, to which he wanted to give the additional work of sending out promotional emails for the course. He suggested a conference call.

“I’d like to ask to move forward on that,” he said. “… I’d like to get it going, so it may end up being an email vote in the group, circulate behind the scenes because I don’t want to wait a couple of weeks.”

Obuchowski’s voice is then heard on the recording, asking Cece, “Email vote?”

The meeting continued with no objection from OHPA Chairman Robert Virgulak.

Virgulak declined to comment.

Are email votes common in Norwalk government?

“I think it’s the sort of thing where we should push for greater clarity,” said Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep (D-At Large). “I know sometimes on Common Council committees the chair of the committee makes a decision to move everything to the full council, which is within their purview; they’ll run it by the members of the committee as a courtesy. Some people might see that as conducting committee business on email. Other people would not.

“I would say for a commission, like the Oak Hills Park Authority, considering there are so many questions already from the public, I think it would be better for them to conduct as much of their business in public as they can, with the understanding that they went into executive session at their last meeting,” she said. “I don’t know what was discussed there, of course, but it seems to me rather unusual for a commission to do something like that.”

Mayor Richard Moccia referred an inquiry to Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr.

“The Mayor brought this matter to my attention first thing today,” Spahr said in an email. “I was going to reinforce with the Oak Hills Park Authority members that all votes need to be made in public and a record kept of them at a duly noticed meeting. I would note that attendance at a meeting could be made ‘electronically’ per CGS 1-200:

“(2)  “Meeting” means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, and any communication by or to a quorum of a multimember public agency, whether in person or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.

“However, we agree that the Authority would not be able to vote by way of email on a matter without the convening of a duly noticed ‘meeting’,” he said.

Corporation Counsel Robert Maslan said it is an isolated incident.

“We are aware of the FOI requirements for meetings and voting, and we are not aware of any of the Norwalk commissions, boards or authorities voting by email,” he said in an email. “…  I am aware that the Oak Hills Park Authority has not taken any votes by email, and will not take any votes by email.”

Comments

8 responses to “Oak Hills Park Authority member suggests FOI violation”

  1. Suzanne

    Is anyone surprised given the OHPA track record of mismanagement and loans from the Town? Thank you Diane and Elsa for holding this lax and wayward group accountable. If not for the participation of constituency, this Authority would be knocking down trees with impunity and further polluting the soil with old tank oil. But, I guess to them, anything goes and it is o.k. because the rest of Norwalk SHOULD subsidize their game. It is a private club in OUR public park.

  2. I feel it is important to apologize to the public. In no way shape or form, did I intend to keep any information from the public or agency in Norwalk. That is why I actually said it out load at the meeting and was really trying to push the concept of approving “not to exceed $200.00 per month” I do not operate as this article is portraying me, or my work on the Authority. Turns out, my mistake in speaking was for an actual expenditure (confirmed after the meeting) of 49 dollars a month, to help build our sales at the course. In my efforts to try and get this done quickly, and being well below any amount of monies needing official approval from the authority, I did not think before I spoke. My mistake, and being a former councilmen, I should have known that. Unfortunately for the course, this has caused this topic to be tabled for two months due to a light agenda next month, hurting us all. For that, my deepest apologies are given to all the golfers and citizens of Norwalk.

  3. Fore Naught

    Clyde Mount is a truly outstanding citizen and community volunteer and should be taken at his word. I don’t think he should fall on his sword so hard for what is a trivial amount of money. $600 for a whole year. Big deal. But, the kind of guy Clyde is he offers his mea culpa as a matter of form of his character.
    .
    The city could and should learn a lesson from this to allow agencies and committees to conduct more business in an electronic format. I am not talking about significant capital projects or even budgets, but a trivial operational matter like this is a perfect case of where perhaps a secured blog could be used to vote and give access to citizens. .
    .
    Alternatively we could continue to operate on a 1913 basis and not get things done as efficiently and continue to shrink the talent pool of available volunteers who would rather not deal with this exact kind of nonsense.

  4. Suzanne

    Sorry, but with the OHPA, nothing is trivial.

  5. Don’t Panic

    The electronic means referenced in FOI are meant to provide for audio or video conference, not votes taken by email.
    .
    Mr. Mount’s apology should be accepted and taken in the spirit it was offered.
    .
    If the matter requires timely action, notice a special meeting and take the vote. Other committees and commissions do it all the time.
    .
    As OHPA tries to move things forward, perhaps it can prioritize time sensitive items and get them on the agenda for a timely vote.

  6. EDR

    Suzanne it is people like you who know none of the facts surrounding the finances of the park and yell fire. Perhaps if you actually attended meetings regularly you would know that the OHPA has made innumerable changes this year both in operations and management and in course maintenance. Further the finances of the park have taken a major change for the better this year. All of this has a lot to do with the leadership of people like Clyde. If you even had an inkling of the time and management expertise he gives to the OHPA you would stop being angry and more supportive of a guy who has nothing in mind but the success of the park. Just sayin

  7. Suzanne

    I’m not angry with the OHPA, I just don’t trust it nor Mr. Virgulak’s leadership and I believe this to be well-founded. How do you know I DON’T attend OHPA meetings?

  8. michael foley

    Clyde Mount is a stand up guy !! his apology should be accepted as that !! This day and age not too many say they made a mistake !

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