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FOI hearing officer rules sexual harassment complaint filed against Haberek is public record

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published July 03. 2014 11:23AM   Updated July 21. 2014 5:11PM

Editor's note: This corrects the headline on a previous version of this article.

A Freedom of Information Commission hearing officer has ruled that a sexual harassment complaint brought against Stonington First Selectman Edward Haberek in 2009 by a town employee is a public record that is not exempt from disclosure.

Commission Hearing Officer Victor R. Perpetua issued a proposed final decision on June 27 in favor of The Day and staff writer Joe Wojtas, who complained to the FOIC after a Stonington official denied Wojtas a copy of a complaint made by former town employee Alicia O’Neill.

The full commission will vote on the ruling, which indicates the town violated the Freedom of Information Act, at its July 23 meeting.

“It is concluded that there is a legitimate public interest in the behavior of public officials in relation to public employees, whether or not reasonable minds might differ as to whether such behavior constitutes harassment,” Perpetua wrote in the proposed decision.

O’Neill was a program coordinator with the Human Services department on Sept. 4, 2009, when she filed a written complaint with George Sylvestre, who at the time was director of administrative services. Wojtas complained to the FOIC in September 2013 after the town’s director of administrative services, Vin Pacileo, denied Wojtas’ request for the harassment complaint, citing concerns about invading O’Neill’s privacy. Wojtas argued the case at a hearing in May.

O’Neill, who eventually withdrew the complaint, testified at the hearing that she felt that its release would be an invasion of her privacy. Town attorney Thomas J. Londregan filed a brief objecting to the complaint’s release on the grounds that it was preliminary drafts or notes, which are exempt from disclosure.

The hearing officer reviewed the harassment complaint and other documents “in camera” or in private and concluded they “reflect the Town of Stonington’s actual decision making process about the concerns raised by the employee and others concerning Haberek” and are not drafts or notes. Perpetua ruled that the documents are not exempt from disclosure except for the identity of the complaining employee, which he acknowledged was already known by The Day.

Perpetua is recommending that the full commission order the town to release a copy of the requested records with the name of the employee redacted. The commission will hear brief oral arguments in favor or against the decision at the July 23 meeting and is accepting written documents submitted by July 11.

k.florin@theday.com

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