(NH Register Editorial) “We Agree With Kissel’s Advice for the Malloy Administration”

October 1, 2013

(The following editorial was published in the New Haven Register on September 29, 2013)

Editorial: State pardons board should meet in public

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s words about open government and secrecy at the Board of Pardons and Paroles sound reasonable at first, but his administration’s actions have not matched the words.

Malloy said Friday that the state pardons board should meet in public, with limited exceptions made for the privacy of crime victims. And that it’s a “balancing act, but more often than not, err on the side of transparency.”
Great, but the Board of Pardons and Paroles twice violated state law last year by holding closed-door sessions to consider and vote on pardons, the Freedom of Information Commission concluded recently. The finding stemmed from a complaint by the Journal Inquirer newspaper of Manchester.

The paper points out that the assistant state attorney general representing the board, Steven R. Strom, said after the commission’s decision that he would appeal to Superior Court. Board Chairwoman Erika Tindill, meanwhile, is a Malloy appointee.

More reasons to be concerned?

The Malloy administration in 2013 proposed legislation that would have made pardon documents secret.

Sen. John A Kissel, R-Enfield, on Thursday wrote a letter to Attorney General George Jepsen urging his office not to appeal the FOI ruling.

In that letter, he noted that “transparency discourages corruption and political favoritism.” On Sunday he told the Register that “it’s really a clear issue. This process needs to be open and transparent because God forbid a case of political influence happens down the road…”

As for the governor’s comments, Kissel said, “He seemed to indicate that he supports transparency. He’s concerned for victims and I understand that. But nonetheless, these (board officials) are people who work at his pleasure. He could pick up the phone and say, ‘Listen, this is my policy. Stick to it.’”
The concern is that the pardons board is not operating in an open and public way, Kissel said, despite the FOI ruling and “the most important reason, the safety of the public and the public good.”

Kissel called Jepsen a “straight-up guy” but “if he obfuscates, where do we stand?”

Arguments for state secrecy are seldom about protecting crime victims or a vulnerable young person. More often, they look to protect the whims and wishes of the powerful.

We’re having trouble seeing how the victims argument has much relevance either. If a convict is being considered for parole or pardon and a victim’s name wasn’t used publicly during the trial, then it need not be used in covering the pardon or parole. If a victim chooses not to take part, fine. But we would expect the victim of a violent crime, for example, to want a parole or pardon hearing to be public either way.

Critics say Malloy and his top officials have a record of trying to control right-to-know groups and ethics units, moving for budget-office authority over accountability agencies. Twice Malloy proposed cutting funding for the commissions that oversee freedom of information, ethics and elections enforcement. Just as bad, he wanted to merge their legal staffs under an office with a governor-appointed leader having authority to hire and fire people in the agencies.

Critics also mention the Newtown cases (with photos kept private), but even if you grant that one as a rare exception, you still have other moves to shroud information, such as the governor’s office refusing to release the personnel files of state employees in the food stamp debacle after the 2011 October snowstorm.

We agree with Kissel’s advice for the Malloy administration: “Don’t just talk transparency, but actually be open. Don’t act behind closed doors.”