FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Robert H. Boone and the Journal Inquirer,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 87-36

 

East Hartford Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools of the Town of East Hartford,

 

Respondents July 22, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 1, 1987, April 16, 1987 and May 20, 1987 at which times the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

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

 

1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter of complaint dated February 2, 1987 and filed with the Commission on February 11, 1987, the complainants alleged the respondents wrongfully denied the public the right to attend a portion of the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

3. Specifically, the complainants claim the respondents violated 1-18a(e), 1-21(a) and 1-21g(a), G.S. in that:

 

a. The respondents impermissibly convened in executive session at the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting for a purpose other than negotiations.

 

b. The minutes of the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting failed to reflect a proper purpose to convene in executive session or any votes taken to convene in and adjourn from executive session.

 

Docket #FIC 87-36 Page 2

 

c. Non-board members attended the executive session.

 

4. The complainants also requested the imposition of a civil penalty against the respondent superintendent.

 

5. At the hearing, the respondents made the following

motions:

 

a. To disqualify the staff attorney assigned to assist the Hearing Officer on the ground that she had engaged in an ex parte communication resulting in prejudice to the respondents' case.

 

b. To close the hearing to the public on the ground that a public hearing would result in the disclosure of information concerning on-going negotiations between the respondent board and the teachers' union.

 

c. To have the Commission conduct an in camera inspection of records relating to negotiations between the respondent board and the teachers' union.

 

6 The respondents' motions, more fully described in paragraph 5, above, were denied.

 

7. The respondents claim a closed session held prior to the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting constituted strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining and therefore was not a meeting of a public agency within the definition of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

8. It is found that the respondent board and respondent superintendent held a closed session prior to the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting.

 

9. It also is found that the following matters were undertaken at the closed session:

 

a. An explanation of the funding provisions of the Education Enhancement Act (hereinafter "EEA") and the effect of hiring three teachers below the "minimum salary," as defined by the EEA, on the town's eligibility to receive funds under that statute.

 

Docket #FIC 87-36 Page 3

 

b. A report of the tentative 1986-1987 collective bargaining agreement reached by the respondent board and the teachers' union based on prior "precondition bargaining" negotiations.

 

c. A discussion of whether the respondent board should present to the town council the tentative 1986-1987 collective bargaining agreement along with a formal request to re-open negotiations for the 1986-1987 collective bargaining agreement.

 

d. A decision by the respondent board only to present to the town council a formal request to re-open negotiations concerning the 1986-1987 collective bargaining agreement.

 

10. It also is found that the special nature of the EEA specifically permits the respondent board and the teachers' union to engage in "preconditioning bargaining" prior to the respondent board receiving formal authorization from the town council to re-open negotiations for the 1986-1987 collective bargaining agreement.

 

11. It also is found that although an explanation of the funding provisions of the EEA, more fully described in paragraph 9a, above, in and of itself, would not constitute strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, such discussion was linked inextricably to the collective bargaining strategy session that followed.

 

12. It further is found that the discussions, more fully described in paragraphs 9b and 9c, above, constituted strategy with respect to collective bargaining.

 

13. It therefore is concluded, given the special nature of the EEA, that the closed session held prior to the respondent board's January 12, 1987 special meeting constituted strategy with respect to collective bargaining and therefore was not a meeting of a public agency within the definition of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

14. Consequently, the Commission declines to impose a civil penalty against the respondent superintendent.

 

Docket #FIC 87-36 Page 4

 

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

 

1. The complaint is hereby dismissed.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 22, 1987.

 

 

Catherine I. Hostetter

Acting Clerk of the Commission