FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Marc R. Crowe and The Hartford Courant,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 87-228

 

New Britain Common Council,

 

Respondent December 15, 1987

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 3, 1987, at which time the complainants and the respondent 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 respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. On July 16, 1987, the respondent posted notice of a special meeting to be held in the Common Council Room of City Hall on July 17, 1987, at 6:30 p.m., for the purpose of discussing and accepting a report and resolution regarding a community development block grant program ["CDBG"]. The report and resolution had been discussed at a July 15, 1987, meeting of the respondent but were tabled due to the inability of the members to reach a consensus.

 

3. Upon arriving at City Hall at approximately 6:30 p.m. on July 17, 1987, the complainant Crowe, a reporter, found no members of the respondent in the Common Council Room. He thereupon searched the building and located a gathering of 14 of the 15 members of the respondent, to which he was admitted. Also in attendance was another reporter.

 

4. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on August 6, 1987, the complainants alleged that the July 17, 1987, gathering of the respondent which preceded the scheduled meeting was held to discuss changes in the CDBG spending plan, in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, and that upon convening the scheduled public meeting the respondent summarily passed the spending package without discussion.

 

Docket #FIC 87-228 Page Two

 

5. It is found that at approximately 5:15 p.m. on July 17, 1987, 14 of the 15 members of the respondent gathered, without public notice, to discuss and take informal votes upon proposed changes in the CDBG spending plan. Such gathering lasted approximately 2 hours.

 

6. Immediately following the unnoticed gathering referred to at paragraph 5, above, the respondent convened the scheduled public meeting and voted upon the spending package. The discussion and action which took place in public session lasted 10 to 15 minutes.

 

7. The respondent claims that the unnoticed gathering was a "caucus" within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., held to reach a consensus on allocation of CDBG monies.

 

8. It is found that all members of the respondent are Democrats. Also participating in the July 17, 1987, unnoticed gathering, however, were the executive director of the New Britain City Improvement Commission and, to a lesser extent, the mayor.

 

9. It is concluded that the July 17, 1987, unnoticed gathering of 14 of the 15 members of the respondent was not a caucus within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

10. It is further found that the July 17, 1987, unnoticed gathering was a convening or assembly of a quorum of the respondent to discuss a matter over which the respondent has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.

 

11. It is further concluded that the July 17, 1987, unnoticed gathering was a meeting within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., and that the failure to provide public notice of such gathering violated 1-21(a), G.S.

 

12. The respondent claims that an order declaring its July 17, 1987, action null and void is not appropriate for the following reasons:

 

a) The respondent conducted two lengthy public hearings on the issue of the CDBG spending package prior to the July 17, 1987, meetings and action;

 

b) No one was denied admission to the unnoticed meeting; and

 

c) The complainant never objected to the unnoticed meeting while it was in progress.

 

Docket #FIC 87-228 Page Three

 

13. It is found that the defenses advanced by the respondent do not diminish the harm caused by the respondent's failure to provide public notice of a meeting at which lengthy discussions took place and decisions were reached on an important subject.

 

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

 

1. The Commission hereby declares null and void the respondent's July 17, 1987, action on the CDBG spending package, referred to at paragraph 6 of the findings, above.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of December 15, 1987.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission