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We need government accountability, but not diluted under OGA

When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration pulled the state’s watchdog agencies under the umbrella of the Office of Government Accountability (OGA), ostensibly to save money, the move was viewed with trepidation by many in Connecticut who believe strongly in government accountability and openness. As this newspaper editorialized during the budget battle, the state’s Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC) would surely become less effective being downsized and thrown in with eight other important agencies: the former Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission, Judicial Review Council, Judicial Selection Commission, Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, Office of the Child Advocate, Office of the Victim Advocate and State Contracting Standards Board. The agencies that previously had small support staffs may have benefited from the consolidation in some ways, but those that were cut, such as the FOIC, and still have to serve Connecticut citizens at the same levels, have suffered.Since the agencies have been functioning under the OGA, there have been problems. The executive administrator of the OGA, David Guay, who was appointed by the governor, has asked to have his position changed so that rather than answering to the OGA’s nine agency heads, he would answer directly to the governor. Such a move would negate any possible autonomy for any of these agencies. This so disturbed members of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information that their president, James H. Smith, a longtime and well-respected Connecticut journalist, composed a letter to Legislative leaders Jan. 20 to note CCFOI’s deep concern with Guay’s possible change of accountability and with the effects of the consolidation.FOI Executive Director Colleen Murphy, as quoted in the letter, reported to the Legislature that “The loss of support staff has had a highly detrimental impact on the FOIC ... (which now) simply does not have enough support personnel to handle its internal caseload (approximately 800 appeals annually) and appeals to the Superior, Appellate and Supreme Courts (averaging 30 to 40 annually), causing a backlog of open cases to build.”The letter also states, “The very credibility of the FOIC, the Elections Enforcement Commission, the State Ethics Commission, etc. depends on their independence from a direct link to the chief executive of the state, whoever may hold the office.”The FOIC is supposed to keep government open and accountable. It cannot do that if its director has no authority and staffing is too short to handle the 800 appeals a year to which Murphy referred. If her authority is usurped by Guay, who then is answerable only to the governor, the FOIC will be held under the sway of politics and will not be able to serve the citizens of Connecticut effectively and keep those in power in check.At the very least, the OGA should not change its structure at the request of its executive administrator this early in its life as a governmental entity. If the governor is committed to open and accountable government, he should show it now by reviewing his decision to lump the state’s watchdog agencies together with diminished power and capacity. Malloy’s actions now will define his administration’s reputation for commitment to freedom of information and to the missions of all the agencies now in the OGA.

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