The more than 50 members of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee will be making their recommendations about reopening Connecticut’s economy and schools to Gov. Ned Lamont next week, but how they got to those recommendations has largely been done in the dark.
Typically a committee created and appointed by the governor would be public, and subject to open records laws. But with the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee --- that might not be the case.
Because the group was created through a nonprofit, the head of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Commission said it’s unclear what information may be available to the public.
“In this instance, there seems to be a little bit of a gray area because it's been reported that the entity is operating through this nonprofit, which is not subject to Freedom of Information. So I think it’s created a bit of confusion and, like I said, it’s a question without an entirely clear answer,” Colleen Murphy, executive director of the FOI Commission, said.
Legislators said they felt left out of the reopening process from the beginning.
“The biggest issue I find with this commission, which in theory again is good, is that there is not enough transparency and there is not enough trust. When you do not have transparency you do not have trust with the public,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.
Even Democratic legislators have questions about the process.
“The information they use to make those decisions, I think we should have,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said.
He said whatever decisions are made should be made in public.
“The more the public knows and the more transparent it is, the better they’re going to feel about our decisions,” he added.
He said he wishes the administration would provide more time for drafts and feedback.
“We really haven’t been at the table for many of the things that were being discussed,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said.
The administration also hired Boston Consulting Group to assist with the plans for reopening.
Fasano said legislators were largely unaware of the contract until it was brought up in one of the governor’s press briefings.
“Which, certainly from my perspective raises some concerns,” Fasano added.
Asked if he knows who is making the final decisions on some of the aspects of reopening, Fasano said he’s not sure who that is at this point.
“There should be some level of forthrightness, of what those discussions are of how we’re getting to a conclusion. I don’t think that’s really happening now,” he said.
Aresimowicz said he understands why the administration believes hiring a consulting firm is valuable, but they should have talked about it with lawmakers first.
“Transparency and information is going to be the key to everything,” Aresimowicz said. “The public’s nervous right now. When they hear $2 million going out to a consultant group they don’t like the sound of it. Neither did I and neither did many of our caucus members.”
Lamont said the work of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Committee would end next week.
“I think we did it right given the timing of everything we had to do,” Lamont said “We could have slowed this process down, but I didn’t think that was the right way to go,” he said.
As far as transparency is concerned, “We’ve been trying to make sure everything the Reopen Committee has been doing was totally transparent, especially when it came to the legislature.”