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Freedom of Information
Fri August 22, 2014
Hartford Stadium Gathering May Have Violated State Public Meeting Laws
Officials from the city of Hartford held a meeting Thursday to discuss proposals to build a new baseball stadium. That gathering, however, appears to have violated the state's laws governing public meetings.
The plan to build the baseball stadium in Hartford was criticized from the start, in part because the city had secret negotiations with the New Britain Rock Cats for more than a year before anyone knew about it. In an effort to get more input into the process, the city may have violated the state's Freedom of Information laws.
On Thursday, the city said it brought together a group of individuals "to help frame the recommendation to the city council." That group met with all three developers.
Meetings of public committees doing city business have to follow state laws that, among other things, require that the notice of the meeting be posted with the clerk's office in advance. The clerk said that didn't happen.
City Councilman Ken Kennedy said that the meeting didn't comply with state FOI law, and it should have. "At first blush," he said, "I would not have thought it needed to be a public meeting, but given the precedent, there's no difference. Essentially, that needs to be a public meeting, or should have been."
When Kennedy says precedent, here's what he means: Years ago, then-Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez announced he had formed an arena task force to discuss the future of the XL Center. That meeting was held in private.
Eventually, both the state's Freedom of Information Commission and a superior court judge found that the task force was a public agency, and was subject to the state's public meeting laws. "There's no difference," Kennedy said.
By Friday evening, the city hadn't responded to requests for comment. In its defense, it could reasonably be argued that the city wanted to protect the private financial information of the developers involved.
Kennedy said it would still have to follow state law. "There are multiple ways to handle it, and still protect the proprietary information of the vendors, and still meet your public meeting requirements," he said. "I don't think it was intended to make this a secret meeting. I just think they were trying to move as quickly as they could to make a recommendation to the council."
The mayor said he wants to get a recommendation to the council by September.