Andy Thibault: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

Andy Thibault of Connecticut is the outstandingly qualified recipient of the Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week award for the week of August 6, 2007.

For Mr. Thibault, we might have to come up with a new category, something like the extreme STOTW.

Here’s how it all started.

Avery Doninger is a 17-year-old student at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, Connecticut. Avery is a leader in her school. She was the secretary of her class for three years and ran again for that position in May 2007.

A fan of music concerts, Avery became frustrated earlier this spring at a number of scheduling snags for a popular school event called “Jamfest”. Perhaps Ms. Doninger suspected that the scheduling snags from the school administration were a passive-aggressive way to prevent “Jamfest” from going forward, because history records that Ms. Doninger, while at home, entered an online forum and speculated in writing that a school district employee was a “douche bag”.

This came to the attention of the school principal.

The school principal ordered Ms. Doninger to apologize to the school superintendent and to tell her mother the bad thing that she had done. Ms. Doninger complied with these requests, and issued a sincere apology, indicating that although she regretted the comment she also was under the impression that she had made it in a private forum.

Ms. Doninger was then banned from running for class secretary.

The class officer elections were held in May 2007.

A number of Avery’s classmates indicated to her that although her name did not appear on the official, printed ballot, they wrote her in.

The matter came to the attention of Andy Thibault.

It occurred to Mr. Thibault, an open records expert, that copies of the ballots might be available under Connecticut’s open records law.

With that thought in mind, Mr. Thibault filed an open records request asking for copies of the ballots cast by the Lewis Mills High School students in their class officer elections.

Christine Chinni, an attorney for Lewis Mills High School, responded with a denial that any such records existed:

“The Board does not poses [sic] any copies of the write-in votes for Ms. Doninger or memos and emails regarding such write-in votes … Accordingly, the board will not be providing any documents in response to these requests.”

Mr. Thibault did not believe Attorney Chinni’s assertions and expressed his disbelief in a formal complaint to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

Seeing a copy of his complaint to the CFOIC, earlier this week Lewis Mills High School started turning over the ballots they previously claimed did not exist.

With the ballots in hand–thanks to persistence and the freedom of information laws–Mr. Thibault counted them and, having counted them, announced earlier today that Ms. Avery Doninger, based on the number of write-in votes cast for her, ought to be the incoming secretary of her class.

I am sure that Ms. Doninger would join me in my warm feelings of admiration and respect for Andy Thibault.

Mr. Thibault notes that he still has a number of outstanding open records requests in this matter. I hope that at least one of them will tell the taxpayers of Burlington, Connecticut just how much the Lewis Mills High School administration paid Christine Chinni to assert that no copies of any ballots existed when he filed his first request.



7 responses to “Andy Thibault: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week

  1. Martin L. Cahn

    All I can do is applaud Thibault.

    That is excellent, excellent, excellent work.

    I can only hope that if I ever come across anything remotely like that, I can do as good a job.

    Martin L. Cahn, Senior Editor
    The Chronicle-Independent
    Camden, SC

  2. in this instance mr thibault was like a bulldog, never backing down. i admire him a great deal

  3. This is nothing new for my friend and colleague Andy Thibault. He has championed free speech and open government all his career. If more media folks had the courage and tenacity of Andy, it would be a better world.

  4. Pingback: Story updates « State Sunshine and Open Records

  5. Pingback: Update on Avery Doninger « State Sunshine and Open Records

  6. Pingback: Free Speech Festival for Avery Doninger « State Sunshine and Open Records

  7. Pingback: Stephen Whitaker: Sunshine Troublemaker of the Week « Open Records

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