FOI: AllProfiles

COMMISSIONER PROFILES
 

 CURRENT COMMISSIONERS
 
     Owen P. Eagan
     Chris Hankins
     Matt Streeter
 
 
{Commissioner Owen P. Eagan}      Owen Eagan has always believed in public service. As a resident of West Hartford he has served on various boards and commissions: the town council, the planning and zoning commission, the public safety committee and the ethics commission to name a few.
 
     But when he was asked to fill a two-year vacancy on the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, Eagan wasn’t sure he was the right fit.
 
     “I just wasn’t sure, but I believe very strongly in the importance of public service, so I felt that because I was asked, it was something I wanted to do. I figured it was only for two years,” Eagan said.
 
     That was in May of 2009. Now, more than four years later, Eagan is not only still a commission member, he was appointed commission chairman by Governor Dannel Malloy.
 
     “It didn’t take me very long to realize not only how important the commission’s work is, but also how much I really enjoyed it,” Eagan said. “What we do really runs the gamut, from a case involving an individual’s right to a case about water rights and the MDC to the First Five Initiative. One of my colleagues said that ‘all roads lead to FOI,’ and I believe she is right.”
 
     Eagan is a practicing attorney, a partner in the West Hartford firm of Eagan, Donahue, Van Dyke and Falsey LLP of West Hartford. He is a 1982 graduate of Wesleyan University and a 1985 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center.
 
     “I have truly enjoyed my time on the commission. My fellow commissioners and the commission staff have been great to work with and very helpful,” he said.
 
     And his feelings about his new leadership role on the commission?
 
     “Let me say that I truly feel honored to be asked to serve as chairman. I have no reservations about taking the position. I feel that I have been given great examples to follow in the two chairmen before me, Andy O’Keefe and Norma Riess.”
 
     Eagan says that his role as chairman will be to ensure that all parties receive fair and equitable treatment.
 
     “It’s important to recognize the importance of open and accessible government,” Eagan said. “But it also is important to have a certain amount of understanding of what it takes for a public agency to comply with some requests. Yes, the slant is to open government, but we have to be fair and act within the confines of the law.”
 
 

 
 
 
{Commissioner Chris Hankins}      When Chris Hankins was tapped to become a member of the Freedom of Information Commission, he was no FOI novice. Unlike some “rookie” commissioners, Hankins brought a wealth of FOI-related experience with him to the commission when he became a member in March of 2013.
 
     From December of 1988 to December, 2001, Hankins served the city of Meriden as legal counsel, first as a staff attorney and, for the last seven years of his tenure, as deputy city attorney. In that capacity, he was called on to advise city departments on filling FOI requests for documents, following FOI protocol for meetings and other FOI matters. Occasionally, Hankins would represent the city in front of the commission should a complaint be filed. He even helped develop a model formula for determining indigence as it applies to FOI requests which, he proudly says, many other jurisdictions now use.
 
     “I never really looked at (FOI) as something adversarial,” Hankins says of his time in Meriden. “Someone wants something and you give it to them. That was my philosophy if we were dealing with public records.”
 
     But then, when he left Meriden to become Legal Counsel for the Connecticut Education Association, he found that some in the public sector didn’t share the philosophy he adopted in Meriden. So he took on another role, that of the complainant, representing the statewide education association before the FOI Commission when it believes it has been improperly denied access to public records or a public meeting.
 
     Talk about seeing both sides. Clearly that made the next step an obvious one.
 
     “Yes, for sure I had multiple cases at the commission,” he says. “And then to be asked to be a commissioner was a tremendous honor for someone who had been doing FOI work since 1988. Being a commissioner really allows me to see FOI from all sides.”
 
     The wealth of FOI experience Hankins now brings to the commission is supplemented by some of his other life experiences. After earning a B.A and an M.B.A from the University of Rhode Island, he earned his law degree from the University of Connecticut in 1984 and worked as both an assistant court clerk and private practice attorney before joining the Meriden legal staff. Hankins also served as a member of several boards in East Haddam where he lives and was an attorney arbitrator for four years from 1997 to 2001. Those experiences, he feels, also prepared him for his role as an FOI Commissioner.
 
     “As an arbitrator, I learned how to listen to both sides and from an FOI perspective, having been on both sides of an issue, I think I appreciate the importance of giving both sides a fair shake,” he says. “I think people appreciate that, even if they are unsuccessful. If you are respectful and hear what they have to say, they are satisfied.”
 
     Hankins says that he has drawn a “bright red line” when it comes to cases involving matters related to education. He will not hear any cases involving any teachers or school district he might have to deal with as CEA’s legal counsel. He also recuses himself when such a matter comes before the commission for discussion and a vote.
 
     Although that might be considered difficult or awkward, Hankins says he must remove himself in the name of fairness.
 
     And those recusals haven’t stopped Hankins from becoming a frequent hearing officer in other matters as well as a visible commission member at meetings and other functions.
 
     “Like I said, I was honored to be asked to serve and I really enjoy it,” he says. His new role in the FOI universe is, he says, a culmination of where he felt his career had always taken him.
 
     “It’s an opportunity to help people and by extension, to make sure that government is open and accessible. It’s good for everyone,” he says.  “And I have to say that I have never seen a more dedicated group of public sector employees as I have at the FOI Commission. It’s really a delight to work with them and with my fellow commissioners.”
 
 

 
 
 
{Commissioner Matthew Streeter}      Matt Streeter has always believed in a common sense approach to government. He adopted that philosophy when he began his career in government and public service in 1987 and he carries it with him in his newest role, that of a member of the Freedom of Information Commission.
 
     "Regardless of the role I was in, I always believed in open and accessible government. I viewed it as common sense, something vital to making our Democracy work," Streeter says.
 
     Streeter has been an FOI Commissioner since being appointed by House Minority Leader Larry Cafero in February of 2012. But his views on government have been shaped through a variety of different endeavors. Professionally, he has worked as both an assistant to a town manager (in Mansfield, Ct.) and as a town manager (in Palmer, Ma.) He was Palmer's town manager from 2008-2010 and its interim treasurer from 2008-2009.
 
     His approach to good government has been molded through years of tireless volunteer work in the town of South Windsor, where he resides with his wife and children. He was first elected to public office in 1987 and served until 2008. He has been a member of the town council, the deputy mayor and a two-term mayor just to name a few posts he has held down in his career. Prior to launching his career in government, he earned degrees in public financial management and public and non-profit management from the University of Connecticut in West Hartford.
 
     Suffice it to say he has seen government in action from many vantage points. And has his point of view changed now that he is a Freedom of Information Commissioner?
 
     "I've always believed in being fair. One of the best ways to do that is to be as open as possible," Streeter says.
 
     Streeter says that sitting on the FOI Commission has given him a different view but not necessarily changed his perspective.
 
     "When I was a town manager, I believed in giving out as much as I possibly could. In fact, it wasn't until I came to FOI that I realized that there are quite so many exemptions to disclosure," he says. "I always believed that people were basically fair. I think everyone realizes that you can't satisfy everyone all the time. I've had some interesting cases, but the hearings have not been as contentious as I might have thought they would be. For the most part, people believe in doing what's right."
 
     Streeter is rapidly becoming an FOI workhorse. Since his appointment in 2012, he has never missed a commission meeting, been a hearing officer in more than 20 cases and testified on behalf of the FOIC in front of the legislature.
 
     "It has been immensely rewarding," he says. "I'm working with good people at the FOIC and it's an important to be a part of open and accessible government."
 


 
{FOI Commissioner Jonathan Einhorn}      Long before he became a member of the Freedom of Information Commission, Jonathan Einhorn learned the value of bringing information to the people. Now a prominent New Haven attorney, Einhorn’s first foray into the public arena was as a journalist where he learned firsthand the value of open and accessible government.
 
     “It was really a terrific experience,” he says, “It was invaluable. A former editor really helped me learn the value of making sure people are informed. And what I’ve done (since then) has really been an extension of that, bringing information to people and taking people in distress and helping them.”
 
     Starting in high school, Einhorn, a New Haven native and graduate of Hillhouse High School, worked as a “fill-in” reporter at the New Haven Register during vacation and holiday periods. He continued in that role through college (Amherst ’70) and law school (UConn ’73) before becoming a member of the Connecticut Bar in 1974.
 
     For more than 40 years since then, Einhorn has focused mainly on civil and criminal litigation in his practice. But in addition to his highly successful law practice, Einhorn has repeatedly been drawn back to his interests in the public arena and his desire to see government operating efficiently and openly, first as a New Haven city official and then as an FOI Commissioner.
 
     When Rosalind Berman, a future FOI Commissioner, gave up her seat on the New Haven Board of Alderman to make a successful run for the state house of representatives in 1976, Einhorn took over her seat on the Board of Aldermen. He hoped to carry on her legacy of championing open government.
 
     There was one not so insignificant problem: he was the only Republican on the board.
 
     “Most of the time, I was the only Republican out of 30,” he recalls. “And because of minority representation rules, I had to sit on every committee. But I wanted to take up Roz’s mantra of openness. I wanted to open as many doors in New Haven as I could.”
 
     Surprisingly, Einhorn recalls he had some real success working across the aisle with aldermanic Democrats to keep New Haven from operating behind closed doors. He served as an alderman from 1976-1991 and as a Police Commission member from 1984-2003. During that time, there also was an unsuccessful run for mayor of New Haven in 1992. He also was busy helping to raise a family of three and build a law practice that has brought admission to both state and federal courts in Connecticut, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the United States Supreme Court.
 
      The call to become a Freedom of Information Commission member came in 2011 after he was nominated by State Senator Len Fasano. He took the oath in November of that year. Having been a public official for more than 25 years and having served as counsel for several towns, including West Haven and East Haven, he knew that decisions in FOI matters were not always obvious.
 
     “People go to the FOI Commission because they need help,” he says.
 
     Sometimes handling FOI cases “helps me focus more on the watchdog attitude” he embraced while a New Haven city official, he adds.
 
     One thing that concerns Einhorn is that “we have a lot of the same people coming before us again and again.”
 
     “I’m concerned that we are dealing with too many frivolous complaints. I did not anticipate such a high volume of those complaints. There should be a mechanism for weeding those out in order to assist those who really need help,” he says.
    
     Einhorn says he truly enjoys being an FOI Commissioner.
 
     “I like it a lot,” he says. “What has impressed me the most is how nice the staff is and what a tremendous atmosphere there is at the FOIC. I am also very impressed by the legal skills and legal knowledge of the staff.”
 
 

 
 
 
FORMER COMMISSIONERS
 
 
(Served from 1996-2013)
 
{Long-time FOI Commissioner Sherman D. London}
     Commissioner Sherman D. London has been a member of the Freedom of Information Commission since 1996, having been appointed by Governor Rowland.  A graduate of Rider College in New Jersey, Commissioner London came to the commission after a distinguished journalism career, during which he reported on local politics, and the Connecticut General Assembly.  During the last 20 years of his journalism career, Commissioner London was the editor of both the Republican and the American newspapers in Waterbury.
 
     Since his appointment, Commissioner London has become known as a “work horse.”  Not only does he rarely miss a commission meeting, but he also presides as hearing officer over contested cases on a weekly basis.  He has quickly mastered the law and the procedures under which the commission operates, and is studious in preparation.  Even simple typographical errors rarely get by him.
 
     Of his 17 years with the commission, Commissioner London commented:  “Being a member of the commission has been the best post-retirement position any newspaper editor could have.  It has provided me with an opportunity to continue the never-ending fight to keep government open and transparent.”
 
     Commissioner London, who has the distinction of being the commission’s longest serving member, is highly respected by his colleagues and commission staff, all of whom thoroughly enjoy working with him.
 
 
 
(Served from 1997 - 2013,   Chair from 2010 - 2013)
 
{FOI 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.”
 




Content Last Modified on 12/6/2016 10:08:34 AM