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.”