Burgess raises concerns over policy

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NAUGATUCK — A decision by Tax Collector Jim Goggin to hold information requested by a local newspaper for review before releasing it drew concerns from one burgess.

Goggin explained that his office will now hold any residents’ tax information for four days for review and let residents in question know before releasing information to the Waterbury Republican-American.

“We will not delay any information to anyone except Republican-American,” Goggin said.

Goggin said the policy came about because of what he described as “irresponsible journalism” on the part of the paper.

The policy comes after an article published Nov. 29 by the Republican-American, whose parent company owns the Citizen’s News. The article reported Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi and Burgess Mike Ciacciarella owed hundreds of dollars in car taxes. Rossi and Ciacciarella have since paid the taxes.

Goggin took the most exception with the article’s headline, “Officials drive in borough tax-free.”

He described the headline as incorrect at best, and decided that the best way for his office to proceed was to double check all of the information given to the newspaper.

“I have to, as a responsible employee and tax collector for this town, double check all information given to them,” Goggin said. “I have to work to protect the people who work hard for this town.”

Goggin explained that all other media sources would still receive any requested information in a timely manner.

The Freedom of Information Act allows four days before releasing information to the media. However, treating one media source different than others may cause an issue.

Tracie Brown, principal attorney for the state Freedom of Information Commission, felt that holding the information back from a single media source was not the proper way to proceed.

“That sounds retaliatory. I am not sure that the commission would find it appropriate,” Brown said of the situation.

Brown said unless there is a legal reason for a document to be withheld from a specific media source, she would advise to treat all media the same.

Burgess Ronald San Angelo expressed concerns over the decision as well.

“While I understand that no one likes to see their name in the newspaper in a negative way, I would ask that you immediately change the policy back to where it was before your change,” San Angelo wrote in an email to Goggin after reading of his decision in an article in Monday’s Republican American.

San Angelo said he was not concerned with what information had been printed in the newspaper, but rather that the borough was following the rules and regulations of the Freedom of Information Act, and that the public received the information to which they are entitled.

“I think that the media should all get whatever information at all the same time. I don’t think we should pick and choose, and I think we should follow all FOI laws,” San Angelo said.

Goggin argued he is in his legal right to take this course of action.

“I am in my legal rights to review information before I hand it out. If they want to challenge that, they can,” Goggin said.

Goggin said he chose to do this himself, as the elected official in charge of his department, and it does not represent the decision of any of the burgesses or the mayor.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said that his office and administration has been extremely transparent, sending documents to media even before they are requested. However, Goggin is an elected official and the head of his department, which makes it a difficult situation, he said.

“I sent a memo clarifying that our policy is to provide, and continue providing, documents to the public and media upon request,” Mezzo said.

The issue came up at Tuesday’s Board of Mayor and Burgesses. No action was taken as much of the discussion focused on the article itself.