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Norwalk information request raises questions

Norwalk Battle of Flax Hill Monument   007-20120711
Mayor Richard Moccia’s attendance at the July 11, 2012 re-dedication of the Battle of Flax Hill monument is accurately reflected in the record of his activities provided by his office mandated by a Freedom of Information Act request.

NORWALK, Conn. – Want to see what was discussed at any Norwalk Common Council or Board of Education meeting for the past few years? Just go to the appropriate website page, click and download.

Want to know what your mayor has been up to for the past year or two? That is a little more complicated.

In fact, if our experience is any indication, you will not see the actual calendar, but a specially created spread sheet that must be taken on faith to include an accurate record of the mayor’s activities.

After NancyOnNorwalk obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request a copy of what was presented as the mayor’s activities, at least one line jumped out as incorrect: Nancy Chapman did not meet nor did she have an appointment to meet with the mayor from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Jan. 6, 2012, at Brookside School.

So just how accurate is this spread sheet?

One of the reasons FOIA exists to provide public access to actual records and documents, not a reasonable facsimile.

Creating the document was apparently no mean feat. According to Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr, Moccia’s executive assistant, Sally Johnson, said a recent request for Richard Moccia’s daily calendar took at least 20 hours of work.

The initial FOIA request was made on March 7; the results were delivered on March 15 and March 27 and cost $68.

The difficulty in getting the public records detailing with what Norwalk’s top official was doing in the public’s name while being compensated by the taxpayers of Norwalk was eyebrow raising.

The first, informal request to Spahr made March 5 drew this response two days latter: “I have checked with the Mayor’s Office, he does not maintain a public calendar.”

A second request that day invoked the Freedom of Information Act, requesting the mayor’s calendar “and any existing logs concerning who has come to see him.”

Spahr replied the next day with, “I am working on this. … Please note that we will process this request within a reasonable period of time given all the demands on my time (as required by the FOI Act).”

On March 15, Spahr delivered the 2011 calendar via email, in an excel format, with a note about the time and labor involved.

The email included an email sent to Spahr from Moccia. “We are working on 2012 and expect to have it for next week,” he said.

On March 22, Spahr said by email that the 2012 calendar was prepared; the email contained a note from Johnson: “It took me 4 days and each day was 5 hours.”

A check was given to Johnson on March 26. Asked what took so long, Johnson motioned with her hands and said that as time went by it became more difficult, fumbling a bit, before stopping. She said the mayor would have to explain.

Moccia did not return an email asking for an explanation.

NancyOnNorwalk also requested on March 11 a record of Business and Marketing Director Tad Diesel’s activities in 2011 and 2012. It was delivered on March 28; both years together in an excel format. There were no comments made about the amount of time it took, no request for payment. Diesel did note that he had removed personal items, such as birthdays.

Lisa Thomson of Red Apples, an advocate for education reform and transparency in government, was surprised at how much time it took for the mayor’s office to get the information. “Surprised that it took 20 hours,” she said, in an email. “I would have thought that it was loaded into a Digital calendar or in a 365-page diary that could have been photo copied.”

Jackie Lightfield of Norwalk 2.0, who has been pushing for better technology at City Hall, had also expected photocopies. “That is strange, because presumably they would only have to photocopy either 365 pages of an analog diary or print out the pages, which would take all of an hour at most,” she said in an email. “This isn’t a tech issue, but instead a fundamental way of doing business.”

The documents do not list the activities of either official in a strictly chronological order.

We plan to seek the advice of the Freedom of Information Act Commission. We do not think the request was complied with according to the statute.

The documents are attached below.

– Mark Chapman contributed to this report.

Mayor’s Calendar 2011 (1)

Mayor’s Calendar for Jan. 1, 2012 – Dec. 31, 2012

Comments

24 responses to “Norwalk information request raises questions”

  1. LWitherspoon

    Nancy:
    Thank you for sharing the results of the request. It’s nice to see the daily activities of elected officials in this level of detail. The vast majority of their daily activities don’t make it into the paper, perhaps because they’re considered mundane, but it’s still nice to know about them.
    Can you clarify what you mean regarding the request not being complied with? Is that because this isn’t an actual calendar, rather a document that was created?
    Since we are on the subject of government releasing records, do you know how one would go about viewing the list of campaign contributions made to each member of the Common Council? I have never seen a story on that.

    (Editor’s note: Yes, it is because the true document was not provided. The true document would show if there were redacted or erased items, and would not be subject to errors of transcription, such as the obvious one mentioned in the story.)

  2. Dorothy Mobilia

    I can’t imagine having to pay for information that every Norwalker is entitled to know. I realize requesters sometimes have to pay for copies (50 cents or so per page) but for employee time? Especially when the employee presumably kept those records in real time? We, your readers, have no way of knowing how accurate the information is, either, given that notation about a meeting with you that did not exist. Let us know what the FOIC says.

  3. oldtimer

    Now that they have put together the data, how much will they charge the next person who asks for a copy ? Each of the opposing candidates should ask. Could it be Nancy got special treatment ? Could it be that the story abpout how much time it took is bogus ?

  4. M. Murray

    Really??? This is considered newsworthy?

  5. Mary Webb

    Nancy, you’re going a little too far. It has become obvious that you will write anything to discredit the mayor, and I guess that’s ok. The fact that it is technically possible for you to request a copy of the mayor’s schedule, doesn’t mean you, or anyone else, should.

    What if you wanted to request a copy of every single employee of the city’s calendar? I suppose you could, but they’d never get anything done. The time wasted in this abuse of the FOIA costs we citizens more than you are getting in return. You’ll lose us if you are just going to waste our time.

  6. Tim T

    Nancy
    This is great work.
    Thank for keeping us informed as you are the only news site that actually does this.
    Also as a side note I love how you busted the mayor in his lie about the meeting with you. I swear I don’t think this administration could get any dumber.

  7. LWitherspoon

    @Mary Webb
    It’s entirely reasonable for the public to have this information. Publishing the Mayor’s daily calendar should not discredit him. On the contrary, it should give us a clear picture of what he is doing as Mayor – a job for which he is paid by our tax dollars. It’s also entirely reasonable to ask for an explanation regarding why the data had to be compiled, rather than simply releasing the original documents.
    Does anybody know the answer to my question regarding where one can view campaign contributions made to candidates for Common Council?

    1. I believe that information is available in the town clerk’s office.

  8. Tim T

    I would like to view campaign contributions made to the mayor to see if any city contractors or developers are on the list.

  9. M. Murray

    I’m sure there are contractors that contribute to candidates in both parties. That’s how it works.

  10. oldtimer

    The contributions to the Mayor’s campaigns are kept in the Town Clerk’s office and can be reviewed there or copies can be purchased. There were developers on the list, and City Carting Co officers, for his last campaign. I think City Carting accounted for a total of $3,000, in three seperate contributions from three different individuals. A lot of contributions are in the names of little-known people and it takes a little research to figure out what company the name may be associated with. Linda McMahon was also a big contributor.

  11. Tim T

    M Murray
    No that’s not the it works. It is totally inappropriate for city contractor to contribute to a sitting mayor. Its a little thing called conflict of interest.

  12. An individual can contribute, up to a certain amount, to any political person they want – that’s called freedom.

  13. oldtimer

    TIM
    Conflict of interest ? We have an ethics
    commission that has never found “probable cause” for an ethics violation and there are good people there. I suspect they may not be getting the best possible advice from their legal counsel.

  14. LWitherspoon

    I’m glad folks have looked at the Mayor’s campaign contributors. I agree that it creates the appearance of a conflict when the Mayor is accepting contributions from people who do business with the City.
    Does nobody bother to look at the campaign contributions made to the rest of the common council? Who contributed to their campaigns?

  15. Tim T

    Irish Girl
    My standards say its a conflict of interest. If yours do not that’s on you.

  16. Tim T

    LWitherspoon
    Here is a first
    I agree with you. We should be seeing who is giving to anyone running for office. This should not be some report hidden in some office at city hall but in fact published online.

  17. Diane C2

    Bravo to NancyonNorwalk for the pursuing this…..boo to Mr. Spahr who should know better than to charge someone for copies they did not request! I believe Nancy asked to SEE the calendars, and also believe that all public records are to be made available for public review. Had Mr. Spahr complied, he would have presented redacted copies of the calendars and Nancy could simply have noted which, if any, page or pages she wanted copies of.
    The Mayor’s calendar in it’s original form (albeit redacted where legally appropriate) should be made available to Nancy asap, at no charge. I think the city should also refund her money…..and perhaps Mr. Spahr should pay for Ms. Johnson’s time out of his own pocket…

  18. Tim T,
    If you want to support a candidate that is fine and you can contribute as much as you want to their campaign…is that a conflict of interest? No.

    If you are an owner of a business in Norwalk and contribute to a campaign, it that illegal….No.

    If you contribute to a campaign. be you DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN – for favors, it is wrong and illegal. But you have to prove that, first.

  19. MEANT TO SAY:
    If you want to support a candidate that YOU LIKE, THEN you can contribute as much as you want to their campaign…is that a conflict of interest? No.

  20. Tim T
    My code of ethics is beyond reproach and my conscious clear, thank you very much.

    But in response to your argument, anyone can contribute to campaigns of their choice (freedom). It is only when you get favors when it becomes illegal and BOTH dems and republicans are open for target but it has to be proven first.

    NoN: Does THIS pass your test or will you opprese this statement as well? Your liberal bias is showing.

    1. Mark Chapman

      Irish Girl:
      We will NOT allow the back-and-forth personal attacks between commentors. We expect a certain level of maturity and decorum to encourage an intelligent and civil discussion, something that seems to be missing in many venues in our city, online and elsewhere. If that is liberal bias, so be it. We will not allow this site’s comment section to be hijacked the way it has on other sites. If you push the boundaries, you will be edited or blocked. That is not oppression. That it called holding you to the same standards to which we hold everyone else.

  21. BARIN

    Oldtimer hit on something; we forget legal counsel for the Ethics Board is the mayors private attorney. Is that a conflict of interest or simply impropriety by our officials.
    Many of the meetings on the schedule were only a half hour, how much can you really get done in such a small amount of time and remain effective in making decisions that has an impact on taxpayers?
    Maybe a top to bottom cleanout of the players that have been around too long in some of the city departments /common council/commissions/committees is due, many of them forget who really pays their salaries.
    Thank you Nancy, for keeping them honest, anyone that has a problem with you doing that should be ashamed of themselves.

  22. Mr Norwalk Ct

    Barin
    very informative post excellent

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