FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision

 

Robert S. Molnar and the Naugatuck Daily News,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 86-50

 

Fire Commission of the Town of Naugatuck,

 

Respondent April 9, 1986

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 17, 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. The respondent held a regular meeting on February 10, 1986 during which it convened in executive session three times.

 

3. On February 18, 1986 the respondent held what it termed a "work session" during which it met with a representative of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA"). Notice of the February 18, 1986 gathering was posted on the morning of the meeting.

 

4.     By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on February 26, 1986 the complainant alleged that the minutes of the respondent's February 10, 1986 meeting did not reflect either the purposes for the executive sessions or the names of persons present during the sessions; that the respondent improperly took up a discussion of protective helmets while convened in executive session and that members of the Board of Burgesses were allowed to attend the executive sessions. The complainant also alleged that the respondent failed to give notice 24 hours in advance of a February 18, 1986 meeting and that the complainant himself was removed from the meeting when he attempted to attend.

 

Docket #FIC 86-50 Page Two

 

5. The first two of the three executive sessions were convened to discuss the job performance of the fire marshal and the third was convened to interview a job applicant.

 

6. Pursuant to 1-21g, G.S. it was not necessary to include in the minutes of the February 10, 1986 meeting the name of the job applicant being interviewed. It is found, however, that the minutes of the meeting do not reflect either a proper purpose for the sessions or the names of any of the persons attending any one of the three executive sessions convened during such meeting, in violation of 1-21(a) and 1-21g, G.S.

 

7. While standing outside the meeting place in which one of the three executive sessions was held, the complainant believed that he overheard one of the members of the respondent, Commissioner Tafuto, talking about protective helmets.

 

8. It is found, however, that the issue of protective helmets was not the subject of any one of the three executive session discussions.

 

9. The respondent claims that although not reflected in the minutes, at the February 10, 1986 meeting it was announced that each executive session was being convened for "personnel matters."

 

10. It is found, however, that "personnel matters" alone does not identify a proper purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1-18a(e), G.S.

 

11. 1-21g, G.S. limits attendance at executive sessions of a public agency to members of the agency and other persons as necessary and invited by the agency to present testimony or opinion.

 

12. It is found that the fire marshal attended the second executive session relative to his job performance and that the chief of the fire department and the job applicant attended the third executive session.

 

13. It is concluded that the presence of such other persons did not violate 1-21g, G.S.

 

14. It is found that on February 14, 1986, a Friday, an OSHA representative made note of a problem with a battery charger in one of the two fire houses. The battery charger was immediately disconnected. Later that same day the chairman of the respondent became aware of the representative's investigation and began planning a "work session" with the OSHA representative to discuss any safety violations and take remedial actions.

 

Docket #FIC 86-50 Page Three

 

15. A gathering was planned for Tuesday, February 18, 1986, and notice of the gathering was posted on Tuesday morning. Monday, February 17, 1986 was a holiday.

 

16. The respondent claims that the gathering was "only a work session" to review information already given to the fire chief, that review of such information constituted an emergency within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S. and that the OSHA representative refused to speak in front of the complainant. The respondent claims that it was therefore justified in failing to give notice of the gathering 24 hours in advance and in having the complainant ejected from the meeting place. No votes were taken at the February 18, 1986.

 

17. It is found that the February 18, 1986 gathering of the respondent to discuss possible safety violations with an OSHA representative was a "meeting" within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

18. It is further found that discussion of matters already brought to the attention of the fire chief, which matters required no immediate action by the respondent, did not constitute an emergency within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S.

 

19. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S. when it failed to provide notice to the public of its February 18, 1986 meeting at least 24 hours in advance.

 

20. It is further found that discussion of safety violations discovered by the OSHA representative was not a proper purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1-18a(e), G.S.

 

21. It is found that the refusal of the OSHA representative to speak in front of the complainant was a corollary to, not the cause of, the respondent's determination that the meeting would be closed to the public. Even if the respondent's intentions had been otherwise, the OSHA representative's objections would not have excused the respondent from its responsibility to make its meetings accessible to the public.

 

22. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S. when it refused the complainant access to its February 18, 1986 meeting.

 

Docket #FIC 86-50 Page Four

 

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 prepare minutes which reflect both the stated purposes of its executive sessions and the names of persons present in the executive sessions, with the exception of persons being interviewed for employment and shall exclude the public from its meetings only for one or more of the proper purposes listed at 1-18a(e), G.S. Prior to convening in executive session the respondent shall henceforth identify a proper purpose for the session.

 

2. The respondent shall henceforth act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-21(a), G.S. regarding notice to the public of meetings of public agencies.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of April 9, 1986.

 

Karen J. Haggett

Clerk of the Commission