Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Information Commission’

Videographer takes on Conn. board over taping rules

June 9, 2010

By Frank Loda, Seymour, Conn.

In 2005, the Seymour, Conn., Board of Selectmen began forcing me as a videographer to “move (my) camera to the back of the room” and to “not video tape speakers” who asked to have the camera turned off when they were talking. The First Selectman also called the police to enforce his demand when I questioned the authority for such an order. Rules were then adopted by the selectmen that I appealed to the state’s Freedom of Information Commission. Eventually, FOI ruled the selectmen’s video taping regulations were “null and void” and fined the board $500 for their inappropriate actions. FOI said the board “was unreasonably targeting the complainant and subjecting him to arbitrary, and even, discriminatory treatment with respect to video taping … meetings.”

The Board of Selectmen then ignored the FOI order to adopt new rules and I filed a “non-compliance complaint” against the First Selectman that resulted in a favorable decision and an additional $500 fine. This entire matter was then appealed by the town to the Superior Court, and was finally withdrawn in November when the incumbent First Selectman lost his bid for re-election. Unfortunately, exorbitant legal fees cost taxpayers many thousands of wasted dollars.

A new Board of Selectmen and town counsel recently approved new rules that I have challenged because two FOI recommended principles were not included in the provisions:

     1. “That people speaking at a public meeting … have no right to privacy, and that persons who attend and verbally participate must expect their statements and images may be recorded.”

     2. “That restrictions on the use of the recorded product other than those currently existing in general law are not permitted.”

The current First Selectman promised to amend the rule nearly two months ago but has not yet done so.

This entire matter is like dealing with a third world country where liberties are assaulted in an attempt to protect political injustices.

 Although the FOI and court cases have continued for nearly five years, I do not intend to allow the FOI recommendations to be ignored. People have a right to videotape public meetings and politicians do a disservice to their constituents by inappropriately restricting that right.

Readers can view several videos that further identify the restrictions implemented by the Town of Seymour’s Boards of Selectmen by clicking on the following links:

1st Town Policy adopted for video taping rules – 12/05

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3501567524081631355

Loda recommends new video taping rules – 3/10

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyiZtR1VHPU

Board of Selectmen reject two FOI recommendations on taping rules – 4/10

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7jtJ1PHKwo

1st Selectman agrees to amend video taping rules – 4/10

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9J8bF5KIoLA

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New law blocks Conn. inmates from accessing guard files

June 8, 2010

By James H. Smith, executive editor, The Bristol Press and New Britain Herald

Both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly passed legislation by unanimous acclimation and Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed it into law last week preventing inmates from reading the personnel records of prison guards. 

It is a wholly unnecessary law.

The state Department of Correction, Connecticut’s most secretive agency, did not want inmates having access to guards’ personnel files. Department spokesmen pitched it as inmates after “personal” files. They waned to protect the home addresses of guards. Connecticut state law already protects the home addresses of virtually every state public employee — a no doubt unconstitutional statute, given a recent ruling by a federal judge in Florida.

But Connecticut public officials, when it comes to transparency and open government, too often opt for hiding information.

The state Freedom of Information Commission had lobbied against this most recent piece of legislation as both redundant and against the spirit of open government, but not one politician listened.

Meanwhile in Florida, state and Tallahassee authorities agreed to pay $60,000 in damages and legal fees to Robert Brayshaw and his lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union. Brayshaw, who was arrested and briefly jailed for posting a local police officer’s home address on a cop-rating website, said last week his ordeal was “completely crazy.”

“Just because I posted it, I got arrested. It wasn’t like it was the Pentagon Papers,” Brayshaw, a 35-year-old Tallahassee man, told Wired.com. Now unemployed, he said it has been difficult to get a job because of his 2008 arrest. He spent nearly three hours in jail and was prosecuted under a 1972 statute making it unlawful to publish personally identifying information of a police officer.

Brayshaw’s comments came after the deadline passed for Florida to appeal a federal judge’s decision that declared the First Amendment trumped Florida’s law protecting the privacy of police officers.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak in Tallahassee ruled the First Amendment does not protect “true threats, fighting words, incitements to imminent lawless action, and classes of lewd and obscene speech.” But publishing an officer’s phone number and address, he said, “is not in itself a threat or serious expression of an intent to commit an unlawful act of violence . . . The release of personal information, even with the intent to intimidate, is not per se a true threat . . . Rather, disclosing and publishing information obtained elsewhere is precisely the kind of speech that the First Amendment protects.”

 Brayshaw said the officer “basically had her information listed publicly in the phone book.” He had a beef with the officer regarding a trespassing flap in which he was not charged.

AP seeks release of Elmore “Rip” Torn’s mug shot

March 29, 2010

By Stephanie Reitz, reporter, Associated Press Hartford, Conn. bureau

Elmore “Rip” Torn’s mug shot was published far and wide when the actor was arrested in January 2010 on charges of breaking into a Connecticut bank while intoxicated and carrying a loaded handgun. But it was a mug shot from an arrest four years earlier in New York — not the booking shot that Connecticut state troopers took as the Emmy Award winner prepared to spend the weekend in a jail cell.

The Associated Press now awaits a hearing before the state Freedom of Information Commission, which will decide whether the Connecticut State Police violated open government laws by denying the news agency’s request for its booking shot.

The decision will have wide ramifications because the state police cited an internal policy as its justification for denying release of all mug shots, not just Torn’s.

The state police, the third largest law enforcement agency in New England, make thousands of arrests every year as its 1,200 troopers patrol state roads and serve as the primary police force in 82 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. That wide scope of coverage and its policy against releasing any mug shots puts a significant dent in access to public information statewide.

The AP is in the enviable position of being able to cite a precedent in this case, since the Journal Inquirer of Manchester won an FOI case three years ago against a town police department that refused to release booking shots. That department and other municipal agencies now routinely include mug shots with their news releases or provide them on request, recognizing that they are considered part of the arrest documents.

The AP has received strong support and encouragement in its FOI case from the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, WFSB Channel 3 in Hartford and Central Connecticut Communications, which owns the New Britain Herald and other newspapers. The AP believes a victory in the FOI case will be a significant step forward in public access to information for all media outlets and, by extension, the public they serve.