Mayor Joe Ganim’s transition team on Wednesday shared recommendations to improve government efficiency and access to public information that included requiring mandatory freedom of information training for all department heads including the mayor and chief of staff, responding quickly to freedom of information requests, developing a standardized tax abatement policy with clear limits and transparency, modernizing parking meters, making the Police Department an accredited law enforcement organization, diversifying the police force and establishing initiatives for ex-offenders.
Ganim was joined by dozens of the 75-member transition task force, among them University of Bridgeport President Neil Salonen, State Representative Charlie Stallworth and former Bridgeport Town Clerk Alma Maya, all of whom served as co-chairs. The transition task force had seven committees.
“I am very proud of this team effort,” said Ganim. “After just eight weeks in office our administration has so many challenges. We are trying to close a $20 million budget deficit and negotiate more favorable labor contracts, while responding to storms and fires and focus on policing methods that make our neighborhoods safer. We are also reorganizing city government in a way that best serves the people of Bridgeport. This transition report will help serve as a guide for all of the things we want to accomplish. I am so grateful for the thorough work done by these diligent committees and the diverse array of voices active in our transition process to show us the way forward. This report represents all communities, stakeholders, and socio-economic backgrounds in Bridgeport.”
The report recommends moving freedom of information requests away from the City Attorney’s Office to a new Office of Public Integrity and Accountability that would be headed by Ed Adams, the retired FBI agent who investigated Ganim during his first tenure as mayor. “Requests for information do not necessarily need to be completed in writing,” according to a recommendation. Requests for more sensitive information that could be exempt from disclosure may be referred to the City Attoney’s Office.
Among other recommendations of the transition task force:
· Government Operations
o Review vacancies and expired terms for Boards and Commissions
o Establish an Office of Public Integrity and Accountability
o Modernize the building department processes and permitting
o Review the purchasing process for consolidated or bulk ordering potential
o Seek to implement Total Quality Management
· Economic Development
o Develop a standardized tax abatement policy with clear limits and transparency
o Remove or upgrade outdated parking meters
· Community and Neighborhood Services
o Establish initiatives for ex-offenders
o Improve city web site and expand public information
o Work to expand and seek more affordable housing
o Find creative ways to offer incentive programs to attract and maintain good quality teachers
· Public Safety
o Make Bridgeport Police Department an accredited law enforcement organization
o Diversify the Police Force
o Hire more officers
More from the report:
The Open Government, Accountability, and Transparency Task Force Committee has focused on the following areas:
1. Freedom of Information
2. Boards and Commissions
3. Ethics Ordinance and Policies
4. Open Forums for Constituent Involvement
5. Contracts and Purchasing
6. Budget Analysis
7. Constituent Services and City Responsiveness Provided by Transition Task Force Members For Use by the City of Bridgeport
Freedom of Information
Currently, Freedom of Information is handled through the City Attorney’s office. Reports from Task Force members and constituents have found that the process of obtaining public, nonexempt information from the City of Bridgeport to be extremely difficult and, at times, impossible.
This Task Force reviewed the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act as codified in Chapter 14 of the Connecticut General Statutes including the 2015 amendments.
Some highlights as summarized by this Task Force include:
a. Most records or files of state and local agencies, including minutes of all their meetings, are available to the public for inspection or copying including, but not limited to, information or data which is typed, handwritten, tape recorded, printed, photographed, or computer-stored and most inter-agency and intra-agency memoranda or letters.
b. There is a comprehensive list of exempt records recorded in CGS § 1-210.
c. Requests for information do not necessarily need to be completed in writing. This is especially true in an open and transparent environment.
d. When Freedom of Information requests are denied, they may be appealed to the State of Connecticut.
1. Require annual, mandatory training of all department heads including the Mayor and Chief of Staff by the State of Connecticut Office of Governmental Accountability Freedom of Information Commission. Click Here to view The Connecticut Freedom of Information Act as codified in Chapter 14 of CGS § 1-200 including 2012 Amendments.
a. tinyurl.com/gn9yv6v (URL)
2. Make the aforementioned training available to city council members, Board of Education officials, ethics commission members, and others who would benefit from such training.
3. Research the new ordinances and policies for implementation in the City of Bridgeport enacted by the New York City Open Data Legislation.
a. tinyurl.com/nbzhzyd (URL)
4. Move the Freedom of Information request processing to the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, if so formed, and out of the City Attorney’s office except in cases noted in the below Tier III – Referral.
5. Post the following statement as suggested by this committee: Your Rights Under the Freedom of Information Act. You may freely request information from this governmental department. We will make every effort to provide information upon your request. At times, we will need to refer your request due to the sensitivity of data you are asking us to provide. Should your request be denied, you may submit a written request for information under the Freedom of Information Act to this department or the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability for further review.
6. Enact a Tiered System of Best Practices for Information Delivery as follows:
Tier III requires referral to the City attorney’s office due to the nature of the request. This tier would account for approximately 10% of all information requests.
Tier II requires a written FOI submission because the request may contain information exempt from public inspection. This tier would account for approximately 20% of all information request.
Tier I allows the City to provide any and all non-sensitive information to anyone who requests it. This Tier would include most information which should be made immediately available without an FOI Request. This tier would account for approximately 70% of all information requests.