FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Dorothy Ryter,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 86-167

 

State of Connecticut Department of Housing,

 

Respondent September 24, 1986

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 11, 1986, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire matter, the following facts are found:

 

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

 

2. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on May 23, 1986 the complainant alleged that on November 8, 1984 the respondent held an unnoticed meeting, notice of which she had "recently" received as a result of the Commission's proposed decision in FIC #86-84. The complainant also alleged that the site of the meeting was undesirable.

 

3. In FIC #86-84 Kevin Mullane and the Beechwood Gardens Tenant's Association v. Department of Housing of the State of Connecticut the Commission found that the respondent held a meeting on November 8, 1984 to consider the suitability of Beechwood Gardens as a housing project site, that the meeting notice required by 1-21(a), G.S. was not provided and that the meeting was therefore "unnoticed" within the meaning of 1-21i(b), G.S. Such findings are hereby adopted for purposes of this matter.

 

4. The complaint in FIC #86-84 was dismissed on the ground that the complainant failed to file an appeal within 30 days of notice in fact of the November 8, 1984 meeting, as provided by 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 86-167 Page Two

 

5. The report of the Hearing Officer in FIC #86-84 was issued on May 8, 1986. Following the issuance of the Hearing Officer's Report, Mr. Mullane distributed a pamphlet to the residents of the Beechwood Gardens neighborhood, advising them of the report. The complainant in this matter was first advised of the November 8, 1984 meeting by Mr. Mullane's pamphlet.

 

6. It is found that the complaint in this matter was filed within 30 days of the complainant's receipt of notice in fact of an unnoticed meeting within the meaning of 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

7. At hearing the complainant stated that she felt that personal notice of the respondent's November 8, 1984 meeting should have been given to all residents of the Beechwood Gardens neighborhood and that the meeting should have been held in a more desirable location, with greater public accessibility. The complainant asked that the Commission declare the respondent's November 8, 1984 action null and void and that it order a new hearing to be held.

 

8. The November 8, 1984 meeting was a special meeting within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S. The only notices of such meeting provided by the respondent were so-called "legal notices" which appeared, in English and in Spanish, in the November 2, 1984 editions of the New Haven Register and the Journal-Courier.

 

9. The newspapers' publication of such notices, however, did not satisfy the requirement of 1-21(a), G.S. that notices of special meetings be placed on file for posting in the office of the Secretary of State.

 

10. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S. when it failed to provide the notice of its November 8, 1984 meeting required by such statute. The respondent indicated at hearing that since the issuance of the Final Decision in FIC #86-84 it has complied with the meeting notice requirements of 1-21(a), G.S. with respect to all meetings.

 

11. It is found that the respondent's November 8, 1984 meeting was held in a building owned by the developer whose proposal was being considered. Such building is located in an area perceived as "dangerous" by area residents and is equipped with a security system which would have required persons to request access. In addition to the respondent and the developer, the hearing was attended by two other persons who spoke in favor of the project, neither of whom was an area resident. The hearing lasted approximately 12 minutes.

 

12. It is found that the location of the November 8, 1984 meeting in a location deemed undesirable by area residents was unfortunate, and not in keeping with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Docket #FIC 86-167 Page Three

 

13. Absent an indication that any person attempted to attend the meeting but was denied access based upon its location, however, it is found that such location did not, technically, violate any provision of the Act. The Commission hopes that in the future the respondent will avoid creating such perceived obstacles to attendance at its meetings.

 

14. It is apparent and regrettable that the respondent made little effort to elicit the opinions of area residents on the subject of the Beechwood Gardens proposal. However, the type of individual notice which the complainant feels she was denied and which would have ensured residents' awareness of the proposal is not required by any provision of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

15. It is found that the Beechwood Gardens property has been acquired and upgraded as necessary for residence by families with moderate income and that such families have already been placed in Beechwood Gardens.

 

16. Under the circumstances, the Commission declines to declare null and void the respondent's November 8, 1984 decision regarding the suitability of Beechwood Gardens as a housing project site.

 

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

 

1. The respondent shall, within one week of the Final Decision in this matter, mail a copy of such Final Decision to each of the 82 units in the Beechwood Gardens complex and shall make additional copies of such decision available, at no cost, to persons requesting such.

 

2. The Commission notes that the objections of citizens who feel they were locked out of the decision-making process regarding Beechwood Gardens are not surprising. When the New Haven City Hall became unavailable for a public hearing the respondent chose to hold the hearing on seven days notice, after dark, in a high crime neighborhood with little public transportation, at considerable distance from City Hall or Beechwood Gardens, in a private building where admittance was monitored through locked doors. The circumstances of this case say little for the respondent's interest in, or understanding of, accessible and open public meetings.

 

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

 

Karen J. Haggett

Clerk of the Commission