FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Patrick Thibodeau and the New Britain Herald,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 86-26

 

Office of the Mayor of the City and Town of New Britain,

 

Respondent March 12, 1986

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on February 18, 1986 at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record the following facts are found:

 

1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. In a November 21, 1985 letter to the respondent, the fire marshal of the City of New Britain made reference to "inspection reports dealing with City Hall, the Health Clinics that are operating within the building and the recommended protections for the records within City Hall."

 

3. In a January 2, 1986 letter to the fire marshal the respondent announced his intention to form a "City Hall Study Committee" to investigate allegations of fire safety code violations.

 

4. On January 6, 1986 the respondent released the fire marshal's November 21, 1985 letter. Also on January 6, 1986 the complainant Thibodeau made oral requests, over the telephone and in person, for a copy of the inspection reports referred to in the fire marshal's letter.

 

5.     By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on January 29, 1986 the complainant alleged that the respondent told him that it would be inappropriate to release the report

 

Docket #FIC 86-26 Page Two

 

prior to its receipt by the study committee, but that the report would be released on January 10, 1986 when the committee was scheduled to hold its first meeting.

 

6. On January 10, 1986, the day before the committee's first meeting, the respondent delivered a copy of the report to the offices of the New Britain Herald and to the members of the committee.

 

7. The respondent claims that the complainants were required to submit a written request for records, pursuant to both 1-15, G.S., and the city's policy of requiring a written request, and that the complainants having failed to do so, the respondent was under no obligation to provide the requested records. The respondent also claims that the complainants' request for the records was never denied in writing, pursuant to 1-21i(a), G.S.

 

8. The respondent also claims that the reports were preliminary documents which, if released prematurely, would have alarmed employees and disrupted the operation of the city's business.

 

9. It is found that the inspection reports were not preliminary drafts or notes within the meaning of 1-19(b)(1), G.S.

 

10. It is further found that the inspection reports were interagency memoranda or letters, advisory opinions, recommendations or reports comprising part of the process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated, disclosure of which is required by 1-19(c), G.S.

 

11. It is found that the respondent never indicated that a written request was necessary and, in light of the respondent's denial of the request on another basis, the complainants had no reason to believe that the submission of a written request would have been anything other than a futile act.

 

12. The respondent claims that it is not its responsibility to advise the complainants on how to file a request for records. However, the respondent cannot mislead applicants by issuing an unequivocal denial and then claiming that it had no responsibility to provide the records because a written request was required.

 

13. It is found that the complainants were denied prompt access to the fire inspection reports, in violation of 1-15, G.S., when, on January 6, 1986 the respondent refused to release the reports prior to their transmittal to committee members.

 

Docket #FIC 86-26 Page Three

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint.

 

1. The respondent shall henceforth act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-15, G.S. regarding prompt access to copies of public records.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of March 12, 1986.

 

Karen J. Haggett

Clerk of the Commission