FOI Panel Hears Issue

Group: Town Held Back Documents

Courant Staff Writer

June 5 2007

SIMSBURY - The state Freedom of Information Commission on Monday heard a complaint filed by a member of the homeowners' group leading the opposition to the controversial Simsbury River Oaks project.

Chuck Ward of Simsbury Homeowners Advocating for Responsible Expansion filed the complaint in January, accusing the town of not providing all the documents he requested and not quickly turning over those they did provide.

Ward filed the second of two FOI requests with the town in December, essentially asking for any and all communication - including e-mails - between town officials and members of four town land-use boards and the developer of Simsbury River Oaks, Konover Development Corp.

In his Jan. 27 complaint, Ward said he and other Simsbury residents were seeking the documents as part of their year-long research effort into what Ward described as "a variety of self-serving activities and conflicts of interest among elected and appointed town officials" with regard to River Oaks, a 60-acre, $200 million mixed-use development at the southern end of Route 10 featuring a Target store.

At the hearing in Hartford, town attorney Robert DeCresenzo attributed the delays to the size and scope of Ward's request, which, he said, made it difficult to interpret and to fulfill. The two town officials charged with handling Ward's request - town planner Hiram Peck and Brandon Robertson, director of administrative services - also testified. Both said questions they and members of the land-use boards had about the request slowed their response, though Robertson admitted failing to acknowledge receiving the request within four days as required by law.

Much of Monday's nearly three-hour proceeding focused on technicalities such as what could be admitted as evidence and the validity of Ward's claim of not getting all the documents he requested. Under questioning by DeCrescenzo, Ward could not specify exactly which documents those were.

"Are you saying the burden is on me to know what I can't possibly know?" Ward asked.

"I'm saying the burden is on you to specify what documents you haven't gotten," DeCrescenzo replied.

John Lucker, another SHARE leader accompanying Ward at the hearing, said the conundrum highlighted systemic problems with the way documents are maintained by the town and officials make them available to the public.

"This is one of those situations where you don't know what you don't know," Lucker said.

Ward's first request was filed in August 2006 and produced just over 400 documents, many of which he called "largely useless" copies of a brochure on River Oaks mailed townwide by Konover, information already on the town website and documents so heavily redacted that they made no sense.

FOI Commissioner Dennis O'Connor asked both Ward and DeCrescenzo to submit briefs summarizing their positions with 10 days, after which a date for a second hearing would be scheduled.

Contact Loretta Waldman

Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant