To ensure a frank and honest discussion at council chambers in City Hall Wednesday night, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty's staff has requested that the congresswoman's meeting with city leaders about potential policy changes in the wake of the Newtown school killings be closed to the public.
The meeting is in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 20 kindergarteners and six staff members dead.
Hearings at the state level Monday and Tuesday were open to the public and lasted several hours each.
The Record-Journal declined an invitation to attend tonight's meeting because it was offered on the condition that all comments be considered "off the record" and not be printed.
A similar offer was made to the Register Citizen newspaper, based in Torrington, when Esty held a roundtable discussion there Monday morning. Co-Managing Editor Tom Cleary attended the meeting and wrote a story.
"Most people there were government officials that probably wouldn't have minded holding it on the record," said Cleary, adding that he felt it was an "unusual" way to hold a meeting.
Esty held a similar closed-door roundtable with officials in Waterbury Tuesday that was neither attended or covered by that city's newspaper, the Republican American. City Editor Thomas Ferriter said the decision was due to the closed-door format. Ferriter said he and reporters could have attended a press briefing after the meeting, but opted not to.
"I basically said, 'Look, you guys, you can do these meetings all you want. Just don't expect us to wait around to meet with you,'" Ferriter said. "I'm not complaining or criticizing. Our thing is to not cover meetings like that."
Jim Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, criticized Esty and said local officials should insist that the meeting be on the record.
"It's absolutely outrageous for Rep. Esty to close this meeting," wrote Smith, a former executive editor of the Record-Journal, in an email Tuesday. "It is also very disappointing that a newly elected member of Congress would want to keep the public out of what should be a public discussion." At the state Capitol, "every word was on the record for all Connecticut residents to see and hear the discussion and participate if they so chose. Leaving the people guessing what is being said is absolutely the wrong way to go."
I think it's fair to say that Chris Murphy (or Donovan) would never ban the public from attending an important matter such as policy changes post-Sandy Hook.