Transparency & Trust.

 
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“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.


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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 commitment to sharing public information with, you know, the public? 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 will be proactive in communicating with residents on all issues: status updates on projects in motion, projects in the pipeline, and the latest news from our regional and statewide peers. I also look forward to responding to your questions and feedback, a process I hope to make as easy as possible.

PROPOSALS, CASE STUDIES, AND RESEARCH

 

+ HOLD 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.

+ SET INFORMATION FREE

From all available evidence reported in both of our local papers (and beyond), it appears that Town Hall's current approach to providing the public with public information is begrudging at best. Whether coming from a local resident, journalist, town employee in performing an oversight role, or from one committee to another, requests for information tend to play out like a poorly-rehearsed recitation of "Who's on First?"
  • First, a formal request for information is filed
  • While some requests are answered in a timely fashion, we have seen repeated instances where the petitioner's claim is questioned, either informally or after involving town attorneys (at a cost to taxpayers)
  • If the request for information is deemed valid, there is a good chance that the petitioner will only receive the minimum disclosure that the law requires of the town body
Since the Freedom of Information Act was created over 50 years ago, agencies at every level of government, in every state, have found ways to drag their feet in responding to FoIA requests, or to let FoIA define what CANNOT be shared. There can, of course, be a fairly wide discrepancy between the "minimum required" disclosures and the full complement of information that the public should legally have access to, and it's disheartening when officials in a small community like New Canaan appear opposed to transparency, instead trying to curate what we as residents are able to see.
As your First Selectman, one of my Day One initiatives will include a shift in culture across all town bodies around requests for information: FoIA loopholes will no longer be relied upon to evade disclosure of information. Instead, requests for information will be viewed as an opportunity to provide as much information as quickly as possible in an effort to restore civic trust in our community. Public info should be just that. Public.