In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION


Robert H. Estabrook and the Lakeville Journal




against Docket # FIC 86-118


The Building Committee of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Salisbury and the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Salisbury


Respondents September 24, 1986


The above captioned matter was scheduled for hearing June 17, 1986 at which time both parties appeared and presented evidence and argument on the complaint. Prior to the taking of evidence in this matter, the hearing officer ordered that the board of selectmen be made a party to the complaint.


1. Pursuant to P.A. 86-408 the complainant gave notice on June 17, 1986 to the Freedom of Information Commission and to the other parties to the above-captioned appeal before the Freedom of Information Commission of their intent to continue this appeal.


2. The building committee, named as respondent (hereinafter, committee), claimed it was not a party to the complaint because it was not a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.


3. The committee is an advisory group which was invited by the first selectman to advise the board of selectmen concerning its choice of an architect for a new town hall.


4. The committee consisted of several architects, and two other town residents who had relevant experience.


5. The committee was selected and created by the first selectman and held its first meeting with the respondent board of selectmen in mid-September.


6. Thereafter, the committee met on several occasions at the request of the first selectman with the respondent board of selectmen to discuss matters relating to the selection of an architect.


Docket # FIC 86-118 page two


7. Most of the meetings were not noticed and were not attended by the public.


8. Neither the committee nor the board of selectmen kept minutes.


9. The committee claims that it is not a public agency because its members underwent no formal appointment procedures and because the committee possessed no final decision making powers.


10. It is found that 1-18a(a), G.S. does not distinguish between committees which are appointed by formalized procedures and those which are created to meet temporary needs; nor does the statute make the status of the committee as a public agency dependent on the decision-making power which has been allocated to the committee.


11. It is found that the respondent committee is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.


12. The complainant alleged that the respondent committee and the respondent board of selectmen met illegally on April 25, 1986, after a town meeting to consider architectural plans for the town hall.


13. During the town meeting, the first selectman announced that a meeting of the building committee would occur after the town meeting.


14. After the town meeting, the building committee and the first selectman began a discussion at the front of the church.


15. The discussion took ten to fifteen minutes; the length of the discussion led two reporters in the room to believe that a meeting was taking place.


16. Reporters were told that the meeting was an informal meeting, and that they would be told when the next meeting would be held.


Docket # FIC 86-118 page three


17. 1-18a(b), G.S. provides that "'[m]eeting' shall not include: . . . communication limited to notice of meetings of any public agency or the agendas thereof."


18. It is found that the respondent committee failed to prove that the discussion which took place was limited to the notice of meetings, or of agendas.


19. It is found, therefore, that the discussion which took place after the April 25, 1986 town meeting was a meeting within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.


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


1. The respondent committee shall henceforth comply with the notice and open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.


2. The complaint is dismissed as to the respondent board of selectmen.


3. The violation found here, based upon the events taking place after the April 25, 1986 town meeting, is largely technical. The evidence showed that, over several months, the respondent selectmen and the respondent building committee conducted private discussions concerning the choice of architect for the town hall. The public has a legitimate interest in the choice of an architect. To discuss plans for the building in private precludes residents from having any idea of what sort of design the architects may be proposing. Such a closed procedure also prevents the public from offering its views to the building committee. The Commission urges the respondents to strengthen their commitment to public access.


Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 24, 1986.


Karen J. Haggett

Clerk of the Commission