Democrats allege FOI stonewalling

State Democrats wasted no time welcoming First Selectman Timothy Herbst into the 2018 governor’s race. Hours before Herbst officially announced his candidacy, Democratic spokesman Leigh Appleby announced the party had filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission accusing the Herbst Administration of stonewalling a request for billing records regarding a private investigator that was sent to Democratic Town Chairman Tom Kelly’s home in 2015.

The request for information is intended to determine if Herbst used taxpayer funds to attack political opponents, Appleby said.

"We hoped this would be a simple request, yet this lack of transparency is telling" said Appleby. "At the core of this issue is whether Tim Herbst used his taxpayer-funded office to go after his political opponents and advance his own political career. Period. This is not politics, this is the law. And Tim Herbst is not above it.”

The issue dates back to 2015, when Trumbull Republican Registrar Bill Holden filed a State Elections Enforcement Commission complaint alleging that Kelly, who was a member of the Board of Finance at the time in addition to being the town Democratic chairman, was no longer a Trumbull resident. Kelly owns a house in the Lordship section of Stratford, in addition to his Trumbull home. The SEEC dismissed the complaint.

Holden’s complaint included an affidavit from Christopher Paoletti, a private investigator, describing two visits he made to Kelly’s Stratford property. In his report, Paoletti wrote that he identified Kelly “from a picture of Thomas Kelly that was provided to me” but did not say who provided it.

Now, two years later, no one seems to know who hired and paid for Paoletti’s services.

In January, Appleby officially requested all records and files pertaining to the hiring of a private investigator to look into Kelly. Town Attorney Dennis Kokenos replied, promising a diligent search of town records and asking if the request was specifically limited to investigations into Kelly. Appleby clarified that the request was not limited to Kelly, and Kokenos said compiling the information would take “a significant amount of time.”

About two months later, Appleby asked for an update on the status of the request, to which Kokenos replied on March 2 that the request had not been denied, and that the town was working diligently to comply and was attempting to locate and review documents.

On March 3 Kokenos advised Appleby that the town had not made any payments to any private investigator in the 18 months prior to Appleby’s request, and therefore no records of town payments or billing existed. Appleby pointed out that the original request had also included expenses “paid by or billed to the town's ‘vendors, consultants, advisors or other third parties.’” Appleby further told Kokenos that a story published in the Connecticut Post in 2015 quoted Herbst denying hiring Paoletti, saying "This is a matter for the registrars of voters office, so it came from them."

The Trumbull Times contacted the Registrar’s Office for comment Tuesday, and was told Holden would not be available until Thursday.

Herbst said the complaint was a purely political move, noting that the Democratic complaint was filed the same day he announced his candidacy for governor. He also took to Twitter to label Appleby a liar, adding “Sorry your little hit didn't work the way you wanted.”

“He’s a liar because Dennis Kokenos released the emails.” Herbst said. “There are no documents indicating that the town spent any money. Dennis answered his question. The town didn’t hire an investigator.”