‘Scary and Slippery Slope’: With Reservations, Selectmen OK New Counsel for FOI Request

Saying they hoped it wouldn’t set a bad precedent or promote lack of transparency in town government, officials on Wednesday approved an appointed body’s request to engage a lawyer regarding an unexpected Freedom of Information Act request. The FOIA request, filed by a town resident, seeks to know just who said what to members of the Charter Revision Commission, a volunteer group that convened one year ago to study and recommend changes to New Canaan’s major governing document. As the full commission worked toward forming its Town Charter recommendations —to be put before New Canaan voters on Election Day, following approval from the Town Council—a subcommittee gathering information to inform the full commission conducted interviews with municipal employees and leaders on the boards that help govern the town. Those interviewees had been told their identities would be kept confidential—an assertion now in question. According to Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert, the Charter Revision Commission after receiving the FOIA request checked with the town attorney and others about its position and “the advice they were getting did not jibe with what they felt in their hearts—I guess is probably the best way to say it.”

“And they felt they would like to have different counsel whose thought process was more in line with that they felt their proper stance was,” Walbert told the Board of Selectmen during its regular meeting, held at Town Hall.