During the Grand Jury Investigation into the administration of Eddie Perez, it was found that former Perez Chief of Staff Susan McMullen and Perez crony Kelvin Roldan had concocted a phony e-mail name to apparently avoid detection of FOI requests. The phony name of "Willie Nunes" apparently became a Perez staffer who was used when no one wanted to lay claim to e-mail documents.
As much as I had hoped things would change and the transparency would become real, that apparently never became the case under the new Administration of Mayor Pedro Segarra. Making a complaint under the Freedom of Information Act is a cumbersome process. It could take months, if not more than a year to wind your way through the process. Typically in the end, even after repeated violations under the FOI laws. the punishment is usually a slap on the wrists and a stern"don't do this again"
One of the largest fines levied was after a complaint I made against Perez's former Corporation Counsel John Rose.. He claimed documents didn't exist during a hearing , and once I started producing the documents and laying them on the table, the hearing officer didn't appear too thrilled. I had already obtained the documents through another source, unbeknownst to Mr. Rose.
Although the hearing officer recommended the maximum fine of $1000.00 against Rose, the full FOI Commission eventually reduced it down to $250.00, which the City of Hartford paid. So where was the sting to Rose for breaking the law? It was the taxpayers of Hartford that paid for him.
The Segarra Administration seems to have a well orchestrated plan for controlling the message and information coming out of City Hall. It has nothing to do with providing information to the public, it is about portraying the Mayor in the best possible. The Mayor's media office is all about image. his spokespeople have been giving their marching orders , make the Mayor look good at all costs. It it is an interview about snow plowing or crime stats, it must be spun to make Mayor Segarra look good.
I have two FOI requests pending with the City of Hartford through the acting Chief Operating Officer Saundra Kee-Borges for months now , and yet no response. You might ask why, and when I explain what I asked for, it will become clear why they are stalling. They will most likely be a black eye for Mayor Segarra and his operations, but the public still has the right to know. The first one, submitted on November 30, 2012 was as follows:
In accordance with the Freedom of information Act, I am requesting the following for review:
Any and all documents, letters ,and correspondence, including e-mails regarding the sale or transfer of property at or in the area of 95 Park Street from the City of Hartford to the Spanish American Merchant's Association. Please include documents or minutes of any meetings held to comply with Connecticut General Statutes 8-24 or any other required laws regarding the transfer of Municipally owned property. Also please include any record of payment received for the purchase of the property.
Also please include any correspondence regarding payment of delinquent property taxes owed by SAMA regarding their other properties to comply with City ordinances regarding the transfer of property with outstanding taxes.
Thank you. Please feel free to contact me for any clarifications needed.
The property in question is actually the site of the new Hartford Hospital Parking Garage. The City sold the parcel to SAMA for $1.00. Yes you read that right, $1.00, no typo. SAMA apparently then in turn sold the parcel to Hartford Hospital for a reported half a million dollars , Yes, you also read that right, $1.00 transformed into $500,000. Not a bad return on investment.
The problems that arise from the transfer are twofold. First , Hartford's Municipal code prevents the City of Hartford from doing business or transferring property to anyone that is delinquent on property taxes to the City. At the time of the sale , SAMA had delinquent taxes due to Hartford that should have prevented the transfer. In addition, section 8-24 of the Connecticut General statutes specifically outline the process for transferring and sale of municipally owned properties. It appears that none of the steps required by Connecticut law were followed.
I can see why the documents aren't forthcoming. Sweetheart deal or time for another Grand Jury?
The next FOI request was filed on December 11, 2012 as follows:
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act, I am requesting the following
Any and all e-mails sent or received by Human Resources
Director Valda Washington for the period December 2, 2012, through December 7,
2012. Please provide these electronically where possible.
free to contact me with any questions.
E-mails also come under the FOI Act as public documents. This request was made after a source advised me that the Human Resources Director Valda Washington had apparently been questioned through e-mails by the Finance Director regarding the use of her City Credit Card and unauthorized purchases. She was apparently askinb the finance department to remove descriptions of certain reimbursements because as she allegedly wrote in her e-mail "the press would eat that alive" if they got a hold of her spending records on the taxpayers dime.
Despite repeated requests, the requested documents have not been provided. Hartford's acting City Attorney, who apparently isn't even recognized as an attorney in Connecticut, recently sent me an e-mail trying to convince he believes in "open government writing" personally, I am a champion of open government"
This is a case where actions speak louder than words, open government means providing public documents without unnecessary delay. I am reasonable and understand the e-mails have to be reviewed for any exempt information, but over two months seems a little wrong. I'm also not sure I believe the volume of e-mails Mr. Van Norden quoted. 800 emails for a 5 day period? Someone should show the HR Director how to turn on her spam filters.
To read Mr Van Norden's response click below.
To read about Mr. van Norden's licensing issues, click here