Meet Chairperson Norma E. Riess
Norma E. Riess has been a member of the Freedom of Information Commission since 1997, and has been its chairman since January of 2011. Long active in her community, Commissioner Riess has been a tireless participant in governmental access issues since joining the FOIC more than 15 years ago.
A graduate of Adelphi University, Commissioner Riess previously worked at the Sperry Gyroscope Company and for the United States Air Force in France as a civilian testing specialist. She has been a member of the Women’s Guild of the First Congregational Church of Bethel for more than 30 years and has been active in state and local politics for almost as long.
Commissioner Riess is well known for her candor and her sense of humor. She says that when she first was asked to serve on the FOI Commission by then Governor John Rowland, she was reluctant to accept. “I am not a lawyer and I told (Rowland) that,” Riess recalls. “But he told me he didn’t want to appoint only lawyers, that he wanted a balance.”
Riess says that she agreed to join the commission, but initially was not confident in her ability to make meaningful contributions. “I spent a lot of time listening at first, getting a feel for how some of the cases should go,” she says. Then she began to find her comfort zone, she says, both as a commissioner and a hearing officer. “There were a couple of times when a (well-known) lawyer thought he was going to bowl us over, but we were prepared and made the right ruling. That felt so good,” she says. “I can’t speak in legal terms and sometimes, I wish I could, but the more cases I did, the more comfortable I felt.”
Riess says that she is a “reader” and always carefully reviews all cases before a commission meeting and all pertinent documents before she serves as an FOI hearing officer.
Since becoming chairman in 2011, Riess had made a concerted effort to attend every meeting. For a variety of reasons, Riess has had to participate in some commission meetings via speakerphone, but says that as chairman she feels “much more responsible” to make the lengthy trek to Hartford to preside over the commission proceedings. “It’s just not the same feeling on the phone. It’s not always easy to get here, but I really feel better if I can see and hear everything,” she says.
Riess says that her days as an FOIC Commissioner have been rewarding and fulfilling. “I like to think that I was able to stand up for the little guy,” she says. “Keeping government open and accessible for everyone is so important and I think I’ve had a hand in that.”