To the Editor:

Last week, the Darien Times ran an editorial describing some recent difficulty between the Board of Education and the Board of Finance regarding a data request by BOF member Jim Palen. Jim asked in early May to see a comprehensive dataset showing budgeted and actual expenditures over the last three years, including transfers - a request he submitted with my knowledge and approval. Our hope was that an analysis of this information, which is still underway, would help the BOF refine its annual budget process.

Town staff quickly supplied the data on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, but the BOE resisted, raising questions about why the information was being requested and whether an individual BOF member could make such a request. The back-and-forth continued for weeks, with the BOE ultimately spending a considerable portion of their recent retreat discussing thinly-veiled request “scenarios” with legal counsel.

Finally, the BOE relented on June 5 and supplied the data. Even now, though, Jim is listed in the BOE’s Freedom of Information Act log, as if there were something adversarial about his request. In short, a straightforward ask escalated into a pointless dispute, which served no one’s interests.

As the editorial says, transparency and openness are vital elements in town government. Unless information is protected by law from disclosure, there is no reason for anyone in government to delay fulfillment of any data request, whether by a town official or a town resident. Period.

I have huge respect for anyone willing to step into a town government role, particularly members of the BOE. I value the collaboration and respect all of us have worked to build over the years. I would very much like to put this dispute behind us, and I pledge to do what I can to rebuild trust between these two important Boards.

Jon Zagrodzky

Chairman, Darien Board of Finance