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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Schools Superintendent Calls Newspaper FOI Complaint “Unfortunate”

Westport Schools Supt. Elliott Landon said today it was unfortunate that The Hour of Norwalk felt it necessary to file a Freedom of Information Act complaint against him and the Board of Education (BOE) over its request for e-mail correspondence.

The newspaper filed the complaint Monday with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission in Hartford. It said shortly after Landon received a copy, he gave the requested e-mails to its reporter, Jennifer Connic.

The correspondence was about the controversial school start times issue and the system’s insurance fund that had been sent and received by a quorum of the school board since July 1.  The Hour said it had requested the e-mails on July 25.

The board held a special meeting on the issue Aug. 4 and voted 4-3 to retain the changed start times. (See WestportNow Aug. 4, 2003)

As late as Friday morning, Aug. 8, I informed Ms. Connic that she would have all e-mails requested no later than the afternoon of Aug. 11,Ӕ Landon told WestportNow.

Ms. Connic assured me that Aug. 11 was acceptable to her, but warned that were we to delay beyond that date, she would, on behalf of The Hour, file an FOI complaint.  Unfortunately, Ms. Connic filed the FOI complaint before receiving the promised e-mails on the assigned date.Ӕ

The Hours editor, James Dean, disputed LandonҒs version. He said neither had the superintendent promised to turn over the documents to Connic on Monday nor had the reporter told him this was acceptable.

Jennifer was never promised the documents by Monday,Ӕ Dean told WestportNow. ThatӒs not our understanding. While there was a possibility of getting them Monday, we had been asking for them for two weeks.

The newspaper today carried a front-page story on its filing of a formal letter of complaint with the FOI panel. The story said belated distribution of the e-mails did not make its complaint moot.

ԓThe (Hour’s) letter to the commission also asked the commission to rule if school officials had acted promptlyђ under the law, the story said. ԓThe e-mails were not distributed until a week after the school board had discussed the school start-time issue.

The Hour made a copy of the complaint letter available to WestportNow. It was signed by Dean and Connic and copied to Landon.

“Landon distributed the information to The Hour shortly after receiving a copy of the complaint,” the newspaper’s story said. It quoted him as saying, “We regret that The Hour staff thought we weren’t acting in a prompt fashion.”

Landon said his vacation and those of some board members delayed the response. He said he also wanted to have the messages reviewed by the boardԒs attorney for items protected by attorney/client privilege and those protected because of negotiations strategies.Ӕ 

The Hour quoted Dean, its editor, as saying: It appears to us that the school board, in concert with the superintendent, is doing the publicӒs business out of the public view. We believe technology cannot be allowed to serve as a way of avoiding public debate and scrutiny.

The newspaperԒs story did not cite any of the information contained in the e-mails.

It was the second FOI complaint filed against Landon and the school system in less than two years. Seven parents filed a complaint in December 2001 over denial of access to meetings, records, and agendas of a kindergarten review committee.

The commission upheld the complaints in May 2002 and directed Landon and the school board to strictly complyӔ with provisions of the FOI Act.

Update (8/13/03):Wednesday’s The Hour carried excerpts from some of the e-mails. They included exchanges among board members stating their position on the start-time issue and seeking to win over others to their view. Members also discussed The Hour’s request for copies of the e-mails.

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Posted 08/12/03 at 08:08 PM  Permalink



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