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Legislative Council Chair Mary Ann Jacob has notified Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) that she was the recipient of correspondence that is the focus of the commission’s latest action on complaints filed by former school board member Laura Roche and resident Laura Terry.
The Newtown Bee has been following the story since former Board of Education members Kathy Hamilton and David Freedman became the subjects of both state FOI appeals and local ethics complaints, after it was discovered that they shared information Ms Roche and Ms Terry initially believed was proprietary.
Their separate correspondence — an e-mail, and a text message — were eventually determined to be public information.
The protracted issue remained alive on the FOIC docket, however, after the panel ordered the respondents to produce the original e-mails and/or other transmission from their personal computing devices that might contain names of recipients, and possible additional content related to information that was published on social networks in late 2015 by Carey Schierloh, who was secretary of Newtown’s Republican Town Committee.
Ms Shierloh has since become the elected Republican Registrar of Voters.
The FOIC is requiring the recipient or recipients of those electronic records, which were posted on Facebook by Ms Schierloh, to be turned over to complainants. Ahead of a November 18 deadline to comply, Ms Roche filed a noncompliance appeal with the commission. According to documentation supplied to The Newtown Bee, Mr Freedman and Ms Hamilton were working with their internet service providers and/or e-mail vendors to produce the information.
The pair had 45 days from October 6 when they received the commission’s orders to either comply or appeal the FOIC decision. In one document, among a sheaf of correspondence that was forwarded to the commission, both Ms Hamilton and Mr Freedman indicate they are not planning to appeal, and have both released their legal counsel from his retainer.
The respondents also both refer to a letter from Ms Jacob, which was also included in the package of documents. In that November 7 letter, the council chair states that she had been contacted by the respondents in regard to the commission’s order.
Council Chair Statement
“While I am not in possession of the requested records, I have seen the documents in question and offered to write… in support of their attempts to comply with the order,” Ms Jacob’s letter states. “I know the documents were sent to me at some point, as I recall the topics, however since I no longer have copies of them, I am unable to say when they were received, nor did I have them when an (FOI) request from Ms Roche was sent to the Legislative Council in November 2015.”
Ms Jacob goes on to state that, “It is not my practice to archive e-mails that do not pertain to the business of the board on which I sit. I understood until this recent ruling that I was in compliance with all FOI Act regulations by ensuring that all business pertaining to the board on which I sit was archived in our minutes as correspondence. I have said publicly any number of times I believe not only in upholding the letter of the FOI Act regulations, but also the spirit of them.”
Ms Jacob told The Newtown Bee that she did not come forward as the recipient of the correspondence that Ms Schierloh posted because the respondents had a right to defend themselves in a way they saw fit, and she respected their wishes.
“They always knew I was available to speak up at whatever time they thought was appropriate, and certainly given the most recent ruling [of the FOIC], whether I agree with it or not, my respect for the process would dictate that it was the appropriate time, so I provided that letter in response,” Ms Jacob said. “I respected their right to handle the process in the way they saw fit.”
Ms Jacob said it appeared the respondents felt they were sharing public information when they dispatched the two separate pieces of correspondence that became evidence in Ms Roche’s and Ms Terry’s FOI appeal.
“We know that the FOI Commission has ruled these were public documents,” Ms Jacob said. “What leaves me scratching my head is why it’s not okay to share a public document.”
Recovery Efforts Detailed
Among other items in the package of FOI documents are confirmations from both Ms Hamilton’s and Mr Freedman’s internet or e-mail vendors that the original correspondence the pair said they had immediately or subsequently deleted was no longer available, or retrievable to satisfy the FOIC order.
Ms Hamilton purchased software designed to help retrieve deleted computer files and e-mails. But after running the software, she said the requested documents remained lost. She said that while Ms Jacob’s letter and her efforts may not satisfy the commission’s demand, she has attempted in good faith to supply any information she can, to comply.
“I’m hoping it will satisfy the complainants,” she wrote to the FOIC.
It is unclear whether Ms Shierloh was the sole recipient of the two items of correspondence from Ms Jacob that originated with Mr Freedman and Ms Hamilton. When reached about the issue on Tuesday, November 22, Ms Shierloh said she could offer no comment. Ms Roche similarly chose not to comment, saying she felt she did not have enough information to do so at this time.
Mr Freedman referred to his correspondence to the FOIC, which restates he confirmed through his ISP that there was no remaining record of the e-mail or its recipients available, and that he reached out to Ms Jacob to see if she had a copy of the e-mail in question.
Ms Hamilton also said she stands behind statements in her most recent correspondence to the FOIC.
According to FOIC spokesperson Thomas Hennick, Ms Roche’s noncompliance complaint was added to the commission’s docket, and it will be up to her to communicate to the commission whether she is satisfied with the information Ms Hamilton, Mr Freedman, and Ms Jacob have produced.