An FOI request sought by small business was stalled on purpose
By DANIEL D'AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
December 28, 2007
Six months after the Hartford Small Business Alliance requested information concerning the 2006 revaluation that sent property taxes for small business owners skyrocketing, the City of Hartford has admitted it stonewalled the alliance, withholding the electronic data and e-mail correspondence they were seeking.
"The city ended up violating the Freedom of Information Act by not supplying the data," said Gregory Piecuch of O'Connell, Flaherty & Attmore, the alliance's law firm.
Piecuch said he and Corporation Counsel John Rose, who represents the city, came to an agreement on Dec. 20 that includes the city's admission it violated the act and commits the city to cooperating fully with the alliance in the future.
The saga began on June 4 when informal requests were sent to City Assessor Lawrence LaBarbera asking for electronic files with assessment data. On June 25, having not received the files, Piecuch sent a follow-up letter. The letter also asked for copies of any e-mails concerning the revaluation.
Although the city eventually turned over paper copies of the assessment data, Piecuch told the Advocate last week it was essential to get the data electronically so the alliance could analyze it. After all, while the property taxes of small business owners were going up by as much as 100 percent as a result of the reval, big business was seeing reductions of 5 percent and more on average.
On July 24, Piecuch lodged a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, alleging the city still had not complied with the alliance's request. Piecuch went on to say the city was asking for an "arbitrary and capricious" fee for certain files.
The commission held a hearing on Dec. 6, where the city agreed to more discussions. Two days before that hearing the city handed over a computer disk with the e-mails the alliance wanted.
Then on Dec. 11, the city finally produced the electronic files the alliance had been seeking. Although it was too late for the purpose the alliance originally intended — to propose legislation to fix the property tax mess in Hartford — Piecuch said his clients are still glad to have the data for future battles.
With the records, and the admissions of guilt, in hand, the alliance decided to withdraw its FOIA complaint.
All that remains now is the creation of a tax structure that doesn't threaten to drive Hartford's remaining small businesses out of the city.