Transparency & Trust.
“It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”
- Eleanor Roosevelt
One of the most common — and emphatic — refrains I hear from local residents is a call for town government to be more transparent.
There’s nothing in New Canaan’s town charter mandating that our elected leaders keep citizens in the dark. Freedom of Information provisions were designed to create more access and transparency, not to keep the community at arm’s length.
If town business feels adversarial or opaque, it’s because our officials have too often chosen to conduct it in such a manner. While this has eroded trust between the town and its residents, the good news is that we can choose to do things differently going forward.
Call to Action: “Clarity of Communication”
Can New Canaan count on a top-down culture of transparency?
we can answer that call.
As a campaign buzzword, “transparency” has gained traction over the last few years. As a sincere effort to provide local residents and businesses with clarity around Town Hall’s priorities, policies, and initiatives? Not so much. I find that unacceptable.
Despite FOIA regulations that should be used to keep the media and the public as informed as possible about what is happening in their government, it’s sad how often public officials try to hide behind various loopholes in the law as a way to avoid providing the information that residents have a right to know. Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination on my part, but I just cannot conceive of any above-board reason why anyone holding office would resist being as radically transparent as possible (setting aside, of course, the important exemptions meant to protect individuals’ privacy as well as any ongoing law enforcement matters).
As First Selectman, I want residents to receive proactive communications providing status updates on projects in motion, projects in the pipeline, and the latest news from our regional and statewide peers…and if there is anything beyond that they would like further information on, I plan to make reaching out to me as easy as possible
PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH
+ REGULAR COFFEES AND MORE PUBLICLY-NOTICED MEETINGS
By providing more opportunities to sit down with me in small conversation groups, I hope to encourage residents to bring issues large and small to my attention without fear of judgement or disregard. Further, I will always welcome feedback regarding my live communication strategy: are there topics that aren't explained clearly? Is there an issue I haven't covered for some reason? Feedback is the only way to improve.
+ RESET THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TOWN HALL & FOIA REQUESTS
From all available evidence reported in both of our local papers (and beyond), it appears that the current approach to providing information is "begrudging" at best. Whether a request for information is made by a local resident, a journalist, or from one committee to another, the most frequent dynamic tends to play out like this:
Request for information is officially made, and after a somewhat drawn-out timeline the petitioner will often receive the bare minimum that the town body is required to provide by law. - We can't forget, however, that there can be a pretty wide discrepancy between the "minimum required" and "maximum allowed" information, and it's disheartening to see people opt for the least transparent path.
As your First Selectman, my day one directive to all departments will be to approach every request for information as an opportunity to provide as much information as quickly as possible; we will no longer be using FOIA loopholes to wriggle out of providing any useful infomration. Public info should be just that. Public.