The newly-formed Council of Non-Essential Businesses have filed a Freedom of Information request for all documents related to the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, a panel put together by Gov. Ned Lamont to help advise the governor on best practices for reopening businesses forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Reopen CT Advisory Group was given partial immunity from FOI requests, although records involving state officials – which included the commissioners of various government departments – were said to still be subject to Connecticut’s disclosure laws.
The Council of Non-Essential Businesses consists of roughly 100 business owners who were forced to close their doors to the public during the public health crisis, according to John Bolton, the attorney representing CNEB.
Bolton says his client is filing the FOI request because “there’s a lot of overreach going on.”
“Nobody knows this state and what this state needs to get back to work better than the people of Connecticut,” Bolton said. “But we’re contracting out legislation to unelected and unaccountable groups.”
The CNEB’s records request comes on the heels of Lamont dismantling the advisory group in favor of a consultancy firm out of Boston, which will also be shielded from the state’s open records laws.
Lamont awarded a $2 million no-bid state contract to the Boston Consulting Group to advise the governor’s office on how best to reopen the state.
Indra Nooyi, the former PepsiCo CEO who Lamont has tapped with co-chairing a public-privet nonprofit group and the Reopen Advisory Group, was formerly employed by BCG.
The move drew some widespread criticism, particularly from Republican leadership in the legislature.
“Gov. Lamont, on one hand, preaches transparency, and then conducts business behind closed doors without any consideration of FOIA laws,” House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said in a press statement.
“The governor made promises that reopening would involve stakeholders, Connecticut medical experts, local job creators, and legislative leaders,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said in a press release. “But now we know the truth that this consultancy company is driving public policy.”
CNEB’s push for FOI disclosure of the now-defunct Advisory Group comes during a whirlwind week for the governor, who just announced that Connecticut’s $100 million partnership with the Dalio Foundation to support education initiatives had crumbled, largely due to pressure over the partnership’s exemption from FOI laws.
Lamont also announced the abrupt resignation of Public Health Department Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell, who many believe was forced out of the position.
The governor also announced a quick flip-flop on his reopening strategy, pushing back the reopening of barbershops and hair salons until June, after he conceded they would be allowed to use blow-dryers just a week earlier.
Bolton says all of this is evidence that some of these decisions are being made in vague and often secret ways with little or no explanation as to how it affects public health or suppression of the virus.
“This is not about ignoring that there is a virus out there but we’re forfeiting a lot of our rights and its scary,” Bolton said. “If we don’t get back to a functioning society there won’t be much left to save.”
Bolton says the group of “non-essential” businesses is also considering filing legal action in federal court