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City Unveils Portal For Freedom Of Information Requests

February 16th, 2017 · 17 Comments · Analysis and Comment, News and Events

Lee and Toms

John Marshall Lee ran for City Council with Tyisha Toms.

Navigating a Freedom of Information request through a government agency can be a rowboat against the tide. If you can figure out where to issue a request is another story. Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration has made it easier to secure information through its Open Bridgeport website. A Freedom of Information portal is also now featured on the city website here with requests processed through the City Attorney’s Office.

Not everything you think is public information is accessible from the city’s perspective. For instance, OIB recently requested the names of the three finalists from which Mayor Joe Ganim will select the city’s next fire chief. The City Attorney’s Office cited personal, privacy considerations, for instance what if their existing employer does not know about the application? The mayor is expected to make a decision on this within a few weeks.

But the flow of information has improved from past administrations.

City Attorney Chris Meyer says Associate City Attorney Tyisha Toms is charged with following up on FOI requests, overseeing a response team “based on the mayor wanting to make our city government more open and transparent.” In addition each city department has a point person assigned to access the requested information.

Toms was a candidate for City Council a few years ago with none other than the resilient requester of public information John Marshall Lee who’s fussy in his compliments toward city bureaucrats, but in this case the good general reports a thumbs-up.

The city website page includes a FAQS section that addresses in-person FOI requests, frequently claimed exemptions, receiving a response and securing a copy of accident report.

For instance:

What are some frequently claimed Exemptions?

Answer:
– Invasion of privacy [1-210(b)(2), G.S.]
– Law Enforcement records [1-210(b)(3), G.S.]
– Test Questions [1-210(b)(6), G.S.]
– Privileged communications [1-210(b)(10), G.S.]
– DOC & safety risk [1-210(b)(18), G.S.]
– DESPP & Safety Risk [1-210(b)(19), G.S.]

How long after I submit will I receive a response?

Answer:
Agency should acknowledge request within four business days. Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-210, public records must be kept accessible and must be made available to a requesting person “promptly during regular office or business hours.” It is the Freedom of Information Commission’s (FOIC) opinion that the word “promptly,” as used in Conn. Gen. Stat. §1‑210(a), means quickly and without undue delay, taking into account all of the factors presented by a particular request. In Advisory Opinion #51, the FOIC stated “[because the facts are going to vary, and vary in significance, in each case, the Commission cannot definitively set out in this opinion all of the factors that should be considered in determining promptness.” However, the FOIC advised that “common sense and good will ought to be the guiding principles.”

See Conn. Gen. Stat. sec. 1-206(a)1-210(a) and Advisory Opinion #51.

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17 Comments so far ↓

  • Frank Gyure

    This will take some time to digest.

  • Steven Auerbach

    Excellent choice! Tyisha Toms will do a fine job and JML will get his answers in a timely fashion. Brilliant move, R. Christopher Meyer.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Tyisha Toms and I ran in the Council election two years ago. I remain impressed with her intelligence, great common sense, and pleasant disposition. It moves her towards an attitude to leave a situation in better shape when she completes her task.
    The system seems to be working the way it is intended after she dug into a backlog of requests last year and sorted them out. Now the system can serve as a transparent indicator for observing the rules automatically and maintaining a record for all to see.
    From what I have heard about licensing of contractors and workmen for property improvements, a one-stop system for knowing the licenses necessary, and the route through City desks to pursue for those improving property in the City would be a vast help. I have heard it said City employees are relentlessly pleasant and express with words their desire to be helpful. However, that may not be the grade provided when they have had to talk to five people to share a problem or get a qualified answer.
    When changes are brought on-line by the City, some appreciation is due, and I support that fully. However, good programs and service are not a “one-time thing.” They require more than smiling employees behind a desk. Where does training and evaluation occur within the ranks of Bridgeport departments? Without regular training and evaluation, how do people expand their skills and stay up with marketplace changes? How does the public know the value of the service offered? Time will tell.

    • Gage Frank

      JML: You don’t think she sold out to Ganim with that part-time job in the City Attorney’s Office?

      • Ron Mackey

        Taking care of self and family always comes first when dealing with employment. Just like Chris Caruso stepped back from politics after serving voters to take a State position. Well, Ms. Toms has to make that decision, maybe she could run after getting what she feels is important. Ms. Toms would not sell out her morals for a City job.

        • Gage Frank

          And Caruso was offered the job because he wanted out of politics? He was a thorn in the side of our previous administration. He should’ve been our Mayor but we all know Bridgeport has a knack for stuffing ballots and expertise on absentee ballots.

          • Ron Mackey

            Chris Caruso’s whole adult life was being a full-time elected official serving the residents of Bridgeport and not looking for or receiving money, gifts or anything. At the same time Chris was taking care of his elderly mother who was ill for a long time before her death. I had the pleasure of running into Chris Tuesday evening while going out for dinner and talking with him briefly. I supported Chris both times he ran for mayor and sadly it was by 270 votes that Chris lost to Bill Finch, 270 votes. I wish Chris nothing but the best and he knew it was his time for him to bow out gracefully. Chris, I owe you a glass of wine.

      • John Marshall Lee

        Gage,
        What did she say to the public from which you believe she retreated, as in “sold out?” I never heard her comment on anything unless she had an idea she could make it better.
        Initially she was hired in an Assistant Attorney position, which allowed her to continue her own practice as other Assistant City Attorneys did. However, in the second half of 2016 she was hired to the City Attorney’s office in a full-time position, I believe. And the City is getting a hardworking professional, with lots of community knowledge, a cheerful and optimistic disposition, and a local resident and taxpayer. What was your point? She has two daughters in school and a mortgage to fund. Were you to research her working hours when she was part time, I believe you would discover her working more than full-time employees are expected to, and there is no overtime in that position. Again, your point? Was the City hurt? Do you believe she injured her integrity? Time will tell.

  • Frank Gyure

    Frankly, I am still trying to get my arms around the entire OPEN BRIDGEPORT website which now includes FOI requests. As for focusing on Tyisha Toms, ultimately we should not be focusing on the person but rather on the process itself and if the process is working properly. However, many times, there still has to be a human being behind a website and the integrity of that website will depend upon that person. I live in the 130 CC district, I went to a couple of election events and I was impressed with Ms. Toms’ knowledge, integrity etc. I wish Ms.Toms all the best.

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