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OHPA lawyer concedes ‘mistakes’ were made in FOI compliance

From left, Attorney Paula Perlman, Attorney Randall Avery and NancyOnNorwalk editor Nancy Chapman during last week’s Freedom of Information Commission hearing.

NORWALK, Conn. — NancyOnNorwalk has withdrawn its Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Oak Hills Park Authority, after a hearing held Wednesday.

Attorney Randall Avery, representing the Authority, said he agreed with the premise of the complaint, that executive sessions could be “better described” on Authority agendas. He also said that since September 2020, when the complaint was filed, the City of Norwalk has figured out the technology involved in Zoom/YouTube broadcasts so that executive sessions can be held without blocking the public from attending the non-confidential parts of meetings.

NoN submitted 16 OHPA agendas, going back to 2018, as evidence to support the allegation that executive sessions were being held improperly. The law states that the public should be informed as to what will be discussed in an executive session. The premise of the complaint was that the descriptions were inadequate or misrepresentative.

NoN also pointed out that a password had not been provided to the public for the Sept. 9, 2020, meeting, making it impossible for citizens to enter the Zoom session.

The agenda was:

  1. Call to Order
  2. Executive Session – To Discuss OHPA FY2021 Budget
  3. Vote on OHPA FY2021 Budget
  4. Adjournment

 

The complaint alleged that the vote should be held in public.

Avery began his hearing testimony by explaining to Attorney Paula Perlman, the Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer, that the Oak Hills Park Authority is a group of up to nine volunteers, appointed by the Mayor and the Common Council, administrating a golf course, nature park and tennis facility.

The agenda was “mistaken,” and “should have read ‘an executive session to discuss individually officers or employees, certain contractual and litigation matters associated with the Authority that affected the budget,’ following which, there would be a discussion and vote on the budget,” Avery said.

The Authority tends to conduct employee reviews and position reviews as part of its budget discussions because employees are the largest component of its budget, Avery said, explaining that the Authority concedes that the agenda for that meeting mischaracterized the purpose of the executive session.

“That’s an error and we apologize for it,” he said.

As for the previous agendas, “some of them make proper breakouts and some of them don’t,” he said.

“We have tried to rectify” the Zoom issue regarding executive sessions so that confidential matters can be legally discussed out of the public eye, but “it’s still difficult because this technology requires that the meeting be stopped and for people to leave it,” he said. “But I understand it’s working.”

The Authority didn’t issue the notice, the City did, he said. “If there was any difficulty linking into the meeting, this was not the fault of the Authority, but just the city of Norwalk ramping up Zoom meetings.”

Carl Dickens, who was OHPA chairman when the complaint was filed, attended the hearing but did not speak.

It was unlikely that the complaint would have made its way to a hearing, but, according to Avery, pandemic issues kept it from being worked out via an ombudsman.

NoN agreed to withdraw the complaint, the legal step necessary to close the action, as the goal had been for OHPA members to be schooled in FOI guidelines and comply with the law.

4 comments

DryAsABone October 12, 2021 at 8:02 am

There should be no “executive sessions” allowed for any agency that takes public money.
Corrupticut embraces this method of deceit at all levels of government and the current governor is all for working in the dark, away from prying public eyes. The state goes into executive session the same way D.C slaps top secret on just about anything and everything.
And look where it is getting us.

John O'Neill October 12, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Accountability and Transparency Do Matter…I wish Transparency saved Norwalk from the albatross called the Oak Hills Clubhouse back in 2003. 18 Years later it’s an anchor around a Great Golf Course. Maybe one of the biggest financial blunders in the last 20 Years. I’m guessing that award may be headed to future Norwalk High School debacle in about 5 years. Come to think about it – Where was the Transparency on that Norwalk High project? No offense, but are there any FOI requests requested on that end-around??

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