FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Robert Caffery,

 

Complainant,

 

against Docket #FIC 87-3

 

Portland Volunteer Fire Department and Engine Company No. 1, Engine Company No. 2, and Engine Company No. 3,

 

Respondents May 13, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 16, 1987, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared and presented testimony and argument on the complaint.

 

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

 

1. By letter of complaint dated January 7, 1987, and filed with the Commission on January 9, 1987, the complainant alleged the respondents failed to file records of their meetings at the town clerk's office. The complainant also alleged that the respondent engine company no. 1 had failed to comply with earlier Commission orders in Docket #FIC 86-95 and #FIC 86-172.

 

2. By letter dated February 4, 1987, and filed with the Commission on February 6, 1987, the complainant asked for the imposition of a civil penalty.

 

3. The respondents claim that 7-314, G.S., exempts them from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

4. It is found that the respondents are volunteer fire departments which perform the governmental function of protecting property within the town of Portland.

 

5. It is found that the respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S., when they are performing a governmental function and that their meetings and records are subject to the Freedom of Information Act to the same extent as the meetings and records of a municipal fire commission or department are subject to the Act.

 

Docket #FIC 87-3 Page Two

 

6. It is found, however, that the respondents are not public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S., when they are performing purely fraternal or social functions.

 

7. It is further found that the respondents allow the public to attend their meetings.

 

8. It is found that on December 23, 1986, the complainant sought to inspect the records of the respondents' meetings at the Portland town clerk's office.

 

9. It is further found that the only record then on file in the Portland town clerk's office was the minutes of the respondent engine company no. 1's October 1986 meeting.

 

10. It is found that all the respondents' meetings are meetings involving active members of volunteer fire departments within the meaning of 7-314, G.S.

 

11. It is found that these meetings include, among others, the following activities:

 

a. election of officers,

 

b. swearing in of new members and officers,

 

c. discussion and votes on whether to give certain members probationary status and whether to terminate those already on probationary status,

 

d. planning of fundraisers,

 

e. decisions on sending gifts to ill members,

 

f. airing of grievances about and suggestions for company procedures,

 

g. announcements of company procedures and changes in those procedures,

 

h. and discussions of firefighting techniques.

 

12. It is found that the activities listed in paragraphs 11d and e above are fraternal activities, not subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

13. It is found that the activities listed in paragraphs 11a, b, c, f, g and h, above, relate directly to the governmental function of protecting property from fire.

 

Docket No. FIC 87-3 Page Three

 

14. It is found that the activities listed in paragraphs 11f, g and h, above, although they relate directly to a governmental function, also relate to operational matters.

 

15. It is further found that if these same activities were undertaken by a municipal fire chief or subordinate officer, they would be excluded from the Freedom of Information Act's definition of a "meeting" in 1-18a(b), G.S., as an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency.

 

16. It is concluded that under 7-314, G.S., the operational activities listed in paragraphs 11f, g and h, above, are not subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

17. It is also concluded that the activities listed in paragraphs 11a, b and c, above, do not constitute a portion of an operational meeting within the meaning of 7-314(b), G.S., and are subject fully to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, including the provisions for convening executive sessions in 1-18a(e)(1) and 1-21(a), G.S.

 

18. It is further concluded that the respondents violated 1-21(a), G.S., by not filing notices, agenda or minutes for meetings in which those activities listed in paragraphs 11a, b and c, above, took place.

 

19. It is further found that the respondents failed to comply fully with the Commission's orders in Docket #FIC 86-95 and #FIC 86-172 when they failed to comply fully with the requirements of 1-21, G.S.

 

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

 

1. The respondents shall henceforth act in strict compliance with 1-21(a), G.S., and shall file notice, agenda and minutes for meetings in which they undertake those activities listed in paragraphs 11a, 11b and 11c of the findings, above.

 

2. The Commission declines to impose a civil penalty.

 

3. The Commission recognizes that the respondents will often have meetings in which both operational and non-operational governmental matters are undertaken. The Commission recommends that, to the extent possible, the respondents separate

 

Docket No. FIC 87-3 Page Four

 

these activities and take up all non-operational governmental matters during one segment of their meetings and all operational matters during another. This approach would allow the respondents to comply fully with the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, while reducing the potential for confusion or misunderstanding on the part of the respondents' members and the public.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 13, 1987.

 

Catherine I. Hostetter

Acting Clerk of the Commission