Just days after proposing a controversial measure that would allow municipalities to reject Freedom of Information Act requests, Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration backed away from the proposal Tuesday morning.
The bill, which was inspired by last month’s defeat of the city’s Long Wharf mall proposal, would have allowed New Haven to prevent the release of information regarding future redevelopment projects to corporate competitors. The city believed the mall was sunk under a barrage of information requests from Westfield America, which owns malls in southern Connecticut.
New Haven Corporation Counsel Thayer Baldwin Jr. said the decision to drop the proposal, which sought an amendment to the state’s Freedom of Information Act in the legislature, was an easy one.
“We felt we could attain our initiatives through the existing structure of the Freedom of Information Act,” he said. “We can proceed in the other direction and accomplish our objectives without fooling around with the state structure and statutory language.”
Baldwin said the city’s proposal was intended to support economic development in distressed municipalities.
“Our initiative was largely misinterpreted,” Baldwin said. “It wasn’t our intention or purpose to undermine the FOIA.”
Members of the city’s General Assembly delegation who supported the proposal did not return phone calls Thursday.
State Sen. Martin Looney, who plans to oppose DeStefano in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary, was pleased the city decided to drop its proposal.
“It was done to try to perpetuate the mayor’s fictionalized version of why the mall plan failed,” Looney said. “It reflected his desire to focus the collapse of the Long Wharf mall on the actions of Westfield America. Ultimately, it was the growing opposition and doubts of the city that led to the collapse of the project.”
Had the bill succeeded, Looney said the public would have had a much harder time accessing documents dealing with public projects.
“Clearly, the proposal would have had a chilling effect on the disclosure of public information,” Looney said. “There would have been reduced disclosure and accountability.”
Looney said he was not as surprised by the city’s decision to drop the bill as he was by its proposal.
If the city were to pursue the bill any further, Looney said he believed it would have ultimately failed.
“I would have made sure it did not succeed,” he said.