Normally secrecy and democracy are opposite to each other as openness, debate and information are essential to both policy decisions and informing the electorate in a democracy. Such was the reasoning in the late 1970's when the freedom of information laws were created both in this state and nationally. Sometimes, government is too powerful for its own good. Corruption can be hidden under the cloak of darkness. Information that is supposed to be public, should be, the people would have no recourse for their own protection if these laws had not been passed.
Thus the controversy surrounding a local political issue has been brought forward to the state Freedom of Information Commission. The town of Trumbull, for the second consecutive year, has cancelled the annual concert for the public. This most recent year, though, reasons were not adequately given for the cancellation, prompting a freedom of information request to the Hartford based commission.
The commission plans to take up the question at the end of March, as the information surrounding the public event, paid for through public monies is considered public information. Mr Bevilacqua was informed by a representative of the State agency that they will hold their hearing of first instance at the end of March although he filed a complaint with them in September 2012. The state FOI laws were passed under the argument that there would be nothing to prompt public officials to actually do their job if such laws were not passed. The state FOI board did not give an indication why the hearing has not yet happened. Mr. Herbst, who is the chief elected official in town government is an attorney by trade.
At the end of last September, Louis A Bevilacqua, local political activist, submitted a request for information from the first selectman's office, after he was informed that the First Selectman was the only one who had access to that information. He requested specific information as to why and when the concert was cancelled as the act of cancelling it incurred a penalty for severance, which the town bore responsibility for, thus making not having the eventmore costly than holding it. The act, Michael Bolton, suffered damage to his reputation based on the public discourse, and Mr Bevilacqua recognised the lack of openness in the media which was generally presented in an obviously biased manner.
"I'm confident that the town of Trumbull will release this information to the public." said Mr Bevilacqua
"What kind of Republic are we, if such privileges of secrecy are claimed over such rudimentary decisions paid for by tax dollars. At some point we will be masking incompetence if we are unable to discern, as an electorate, the real reasons for policy changes."
Government's obligation to disclosure is not absolute, just as the media realises in first amendment cases, but federal caselaw requires proof of a 'compelling state interest' to protect priviledged information, usually of a national security nature, which is not the situation here. In the matter before the state board, thousands of dollars were committed to the show, and the Town abruptly cancelled the performance sitting poor sales, despite already having sold hundredsof tickets. Subsequent questions include whether or not all people who purchsed these tickets were in fact refunded the full amount.
In 2011, the Gin Blossoms show was also cancelled as a hurricane struck two weeks before, but many officials claim the event could have gone on since no damage was sustained the concert venue. The original concert series began in the 1970's as part of Trumbull Day, and was offered for free as a thank you to the public, since then tickets now command costs in excess of $40 for lawn seats, many of the audience are seniors and the elderly who purchase the tickets through Stern Village or the Senior Citizens center, both managed by the town. The town hires bus transportation to bring these busloads of Seniors in assisted living to the show, which is managed by the recreation department. The omsbudsman in the case, Thomas Hennick has not yet explained if the Town was contacted or is cooperating. The next concert is scheduled for later this summer at the venue of Indian Ledge park in Town.