Towns to host FOI sessions

Newly elected leaders and the public will have an opportunity to learn about their rights and responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act at upcoming workshops.

“I call it FOI 101,” said Thomas Hennick, the public education officer from the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, who presents the free workshops around the state. “People need to know what their obligations are under FOI and what their rights are.”

He said he offers the class to provide officials and the community the tools to feel comfortable with the law that allows people to access public information and governments to operate in a transparent manner.

Redding’s workshop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Redding Town Hall, and Newtown has one scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 13. Both are open to residents in those towns, and members of boards and commissions are encouraged to attend.

New Milford will have two sessions on Feb. 6. The first will be at 2:30 p.m. for town employees and the second will be at 6 p.m. at Sarah Noble Intermediate School for elected officials and residents.

The classes tend to cover the different types of meetings, the groups that fall under FOI regulations, meeting notices and meeting minutes requirements, executive session rules and public records requests.

Hennick said the state has provided these workshops since at least 2000. He said the commission stepped up its efforts when he joined in 2001 and he offers 90 to 100 workshops annually, with most scheduled at the beginning of the year when new officials assume office.

Meetings are scheduled at the request of a board or official. The town clerks in Redding and Newtown both schedule their workshops following municipal elections to help educate the new members of boards, commissions and councils about the Freedom of Information Act.

Newtown Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia Halstead has offered the class for eight or nine years. She said it is important residents and officials both understand how the process works.

“You always want to be transparent,” she said.

Hennick said they welcome the requests because it shows officials want to govern the right way.

“Democracy only works if the government is open and accessible,” he said.

Hennick last presented in New Milford in 2011. New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said he was unsure why there hadn’t been once since then. He said once he learned of the workshop, he wanted to schedule a session to educate the public on their right to request information and the town employees on how to provide that information in a timely manner.

Bass said he hopes to see as many people as possible attend the workshop.

“If we know more about doing it, it will be better for everyone,” Bass said.; 203-731-3345