FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Lawrence Orrico,

 

Complainant,

 

against Docket #FIC 87-103

 

Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, Inc. and President, Cos Cob Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, Inc.,

 

Respondents July 8, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 19, 1987, at which time the complainant 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. On April 2, 1987, the complainant attended part of the respondent fire company's monthly meeting until the respondent president ordered him to leave.

 

2. The complainant appealed to the Commission by letter dated April 4, 1987, and filed with the Commission on April 8, 1987, alleging denial of his right to attend the meeting.

 

3. The respondents claim they are not public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

4. The respondents also claim that 7-314(b), G.S., exempts them from the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

5. It is found that the Town of Greenwich owns the fire house that the respondent company occupies rent-free and supplies 4 of the company's 5 trucks, as well as much of its firefighting equipment and gear.

 

6. It is found that the town's fire department assigns two paid employees per shift, a total of eight, to the respondent company's fire house. These employees drive the respondent company's first two trucks to fires.

 

Docket #87-103 Page Two

 

7. It is found, therefore, that the respondents receive significant public funding in the form of rent, vehicles, equipment, gear and paid personnel.

 

8. It is found that any rules, regulations or bylaws of the respondent company that conflict with the rules, regulations, standard operating procedures or general orders of the town's fire department are superseded by the town department's provisions.

 

9. It is found, therefore, that the respondent company is regulated to some extent by the town fire department.

 

10. It is found that the respondent company performs a function, fire protection, that if it were not performed by it and its sister Volunteer Companies, would be performed by the town government.

 

11. It is found, therefore, that the respondents perform a governmental function when they protect property within the Town of Greenwich from fire.

 

12. It is concluded that the respondents are public agencies with the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S., when they are performing this 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.

 

13. 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.

 

14. It is found that the meeting in question was a meeting involving active members of a volunteer fire department within the meaning of 7-314, G.S.

 

15. It is found that this meeting included, among others, the following activities:

 

a. a report by the chief on the fires responded to, including the number of fires and the manpower used,

 

b. a report by the treasurer on the budget,

 

c. a report by the house committee on the condition of the firehouse,

 

d. reports by other committees,

 

Docket #FIC 87-103 Page Three

 

e. discussion of the current radio procedures and returning to a town-wide paging system,

 

f. and discussion of social activities.

 

16. It is found that the activity listed in paragraph 14f above is not subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

17. It is found that the activities listed in paragraphs 14a and c above relate directly to the governmental function of protecting property from fire.

 

18. It is found that the activities listed in paragraphs 14b and d above relate directly to this governmental function to the extent they do not concern fraternal activities.

 

19. It is found that the activity listed in paragraph 14e above, although it relates directly to a governmental function, also relates to operational matters.

 

20. It is further found that if this same matter were discussed by a municipal fire chief or subordinate officer, it 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.

 

21. It is concluded that under 7-314, G.S., the operational activity listed in paragraph 14e, above, is not subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

22. It is also concluded that the activities listed in paragraphs 14a, b, c and d, above, do not constitute a portion of an operational meeting within the meaning of 7-314(b), G.S., and, to the extent they do not concern fraternal activities, are subject fully to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

23. It is further concluded that the respondents violated 1-21(a), G.S., by ordering the complainant to leave any portion of the meeting in which those activities listed in paragraphs 14a, b, c and d, above, took place.

 

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

 

Docket #FIC 87-103 Page Four

 

compliance with 1-21(a), G.S., and allow the public to attend those portions of their meetings in which they undertake those non-fraternal activities listed in paragraphs 14a, b, c and d of the above findings.

 

2. The Commission recognizes that the respondents often have meetings in which both operational and non-operational governmental matters, as well as fraternal matters, are undertaken. The Commission recommends that, to the extent possible, the respondents separate these activities and take up all non-operational governmental matters during one segment of their meetings, all operational matters during another, and all fraternal matters during a third segment. This approach would allow the respondents to welcome the public to the portion of their meetings subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, while keeping clear which portion of the meeting is not subject to the Act.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 8, 1987.

 

 

Catherine I. Hostetter

Acting Clerk of the Commission