DECEPTION OR HONEST MISTAKES ?

At the risk of driving everyone over the edge with FOI comments, it really is the main tool we have to find out what is going on in Hartford, but definitely not the only tool. As much as we keep hearing about transparency and openness, anyone who has dealt with Hartford realizes that is the furthest thing from the truth. The fact that Corporation Counsel John Rose has appointed himself "Editor-in-Chief" of all FOI Act requests speaks volumes about the bunker mentality at City Hall. Another critical question is whether or not honest responses are given in reply to FOI requests. A perfect example is in requests both Jeff Cohen and myself put in at about the same time regarding Hartford's ESI bonus program. I took the list at face value and posted it here, Jeff did some more digging (it is his full time job you know). In his blog at courant.com, "Cityline", today Jeff reported that the city had "inadvertently" left Police Chief Daryl Roberts of the list of employees receiving an ESI bonus. Are we supposed to guess who else might have been left off, maybe Susan McMullen, maybe Sarah Barr, maybe John Rose? How are we to trust the accuracy of their information?

While Jeff was tracking down the "inadvertent omissions", I received a tip from another source regarding a three day seminar that was held at the Hartford Marriott for over 600 Hartford School employees. The source advised me that the event was complete with a catered breakfast every morning, validated parking in the Convention Center garages paid for by the Board of Education, as well as other amenities. Well, maybe I'm still naive, but I put my faith in the FOI Act and requested any records and information about the event especially the cost. I promptly received an e-mail back from the Board of Education that they had no idea what I was talking about. The e-mail is below:
Foi Board Marriott

I immediately called the author of the e-mail,Milly Ramos-Agosto, and stated that there must be an error. I told her that the source that advised me about the conference was very specific and knew exactly what they were talking about. I told her I was going to continue to look into it and she might want to do some further checking. She stated that the Superintendent's Office was unaware of the event and she had spoke to the Board's "financial person", and no such event took place. Ok, I figured they would know by now that FOI is not the only way to get information, so off I went to gather the information. I must have shook the right trees and stirred things up because at 2:28PM today, 24 hours to the minute after the original request I received the following e-mail, again from Milly Ramos-Agosto. The complete text of the e-mail is below:
FOI Board Marriott #2


Ms. Ramos-Agosto stated "that after further research based upon our telephone conversation, it has been identified that an event was held at the Hartford Marriott during the month of August 2009".I understand that Ms. Ramos-Agosto is only doing a job and can only forward information that she is given. The big question is regarding the Superintendent and his staff and their level of honesty and integrity. Are we to honestly believe that the people in Dr. Adamowski's office asked about this event actually forgot about that "little" three day rental of the Hartford Marriott where more than 20% of your staff were given catered breakfast and paid parking for three days? Or was it more of an attempt to divert attention away from something that has the potential to become a big issue of fiscal responsibility. How do you justify laying employees off in the midst of a budget crisis, while throwing catered seminars with free parking? And with all these beautiful schools that we keep hearing about, would one of them have met the needs for hosting this event for far less money?

FOIA is a great tool, but definitely not the only tool. It can't be if we are going to keep City Hall honest. I trust my sources far more than I'll trust John Rose or anyone else inhibiting the publics right to know. And as usual, feel free to keep calling with information.