FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Nancy Burton,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 87-302

 

Roy C.B. Bradshaw, Vincent Viggiano, John Hayes, James McBroom, Barbara Obeda, Redding

Technical Team, Mary Anne Guitar, First Selectman, Diane Taylor, Planning Commission Chairman and Reeve K. Biggers, Conservation Commission Chairman of the Town of Redding,

 

Respondents March 9, 1988

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on November 20, 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. The respondent first selectman and the respondent chairmen of the planning commission and conservation commission are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on October 19, 1987 the complainant alleged that she had been denied access to attend an October 15, 1987 meeting of the Redding Technical Team, in violation of 1-21(a), G.S. Further alleging that access had been denied willfully and without reasonable grounds, the complainant requested the imposition of a civil penalty, pursuant to 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

3. The complainant also alleged that she had been denied access to meetings occurring more than 30 days prior to the filing of her complaint. Such meetings, however, were not unnoticed or secret meetings within the meaning of 1-21i(b), G.S. and are not, therefore, within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

 

4. The Redding Technical Team (hereinafter "RTT"), which allows attendance at its meetings by invitation only, claims

 

Docket #FIC 87-302 Page Two

 

that it is not a public agency and, therefore, not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

5. It is found that 5.1 of the Town of Redding's subdivision regulations provides that an application for subdivision or re-subdivision will not be accepted for consideration and action until the planning commission has verified that all data required by the subdivision regulations have been submitted in proper form.

 

6. Prior to 1978, applications for subdivision or other development plan approval in the Town of Redding were reviewed for technical flaws by town employees or consultants working independently. In 1978 the respondent first selectman established the RTT to encourage such employees and consultants to meet and share their opinions on applications. Since 1978, applications for subdivision or other development plan approval have been submitted to the RTT for review.

 

7. The RTT is composed of five participants: the town sanitarian and the town zoning enforcement officer, a planning consultant, an engineering consultant and an environmental consultant. The role of engineering consultant is filled by one of several members of an engineering firm engaged by the Town of Redding and the role of environmental consultant is filled by either an independent contractor or, infrequently, by the respondent chairman of the conservation commission.

 

8. Initially, the RTT meets with the applicant, reviews the application and advises the applicant of necessary changes, if any, in the application. Occasionally an applicant will be required to return several times to the RTT before the RTT is satisfied that the application is technically correct.

 

9. Once the RTT is satisfied that an application meets all technical requirements of the subdivision regulations or other applicable regulations, it so certifies to the planning commission and recommends that the application be accepted. The application is then put on an agenda for a meeting of the planning commission.

 

10. It is found that the review of a subdivision application or application for other development plan approval for technical completeness is a function which could be, and was, prior to the formation of the RTT, accomplished by staff members working independently.

 

11. It is further found that the review of a subdivision application or application for other development plan approval for technical completeness is in the nature of an administrative function, consisting of an objective review of a given application to determine whether it meets certain established criteria.

 

Docket #FIC 87-302 Page Three

 

12. It is concluded that to the extent that the RTT meets for the purpose of reviewing subdivision or other development plan applications for technical perfection, such gatherings are administrative or staff meetings of a single-member public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S. and, consequently, public access to such gatherings is not required by 1-21(a), G.S.

 

13. It is found that following an application's acceptance by the planning commission, the subject of the application is referred back to the RTT for an evaluation of the merits and quality, rather than the technical completeness, of the application.

 

14. Upon referral of an accepted application back to the RTT, its members again meet to consider the application. At such second stage of the RTT's consideration of a subdivision or other development plan application each member of the RTT evaluates the merits and quality of the request, rather than its technical correctness, based upon his or her particular area of expertise.

 

15. The RTT then submits a second recommendation to the planning commission, in the form of a report, which states the consensus of the RTT members on the issue of whether the application should be granted or denied. A dissenting member may submit his or her own report. Such reports are heavily relied upon by the planning commission in its decision-making.

 

16. It is found that a meeting to evaluate the merits and quality of and render a decision on a request for subdivision or other development plan approval, however non-binding, is distinguishable from the type of purely objective review performed at the initial stage of the RTT's examination of a subdivision application. Such a function is not one typically or properly performed by individual staff members, rather, such evaluations and determinations are generally within the province of a planning commission or similar body.

 

17. It is further found that the second-stage evaluations performed by the RTT are not administrative or staff meetings of a single-member public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

 

18. It is concluded that when acting in concert to render an opinion concerning the granting or denial of a subdivision or other development plan application on its merits and quality, the RTT is a multi-member public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S. whose gatherings are meetings within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S. Such gatherings, therefore, must be conducted in compliance with the requirements of 1-21(a), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 87-302 Page Four

 

19. It is found that neither the respondent first selectman nor either of the respondent chairmen is individually responsible for providing or denying access to meetings of the RTT. The complaint, as it relates to such persons individually, is therefore dismissed.

 

20. In the absence of evidence concerning the nature of the RTT's October 15, 1987 meeting, the Commission declines to issue an order with respect to the propriety of closing such meeting to the public.

 

21. The Commission hereby declines to impose the civil penalties requested by the complainant.

 

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

 

1. The complaint as it relates to the respondent first selectman and the respondent chairmen is hereby dismissed.

 

2. The respondent RTT henceforth shall comply with the requirements of 1-21(a), G.S. regarding notice and minutes of, and public access to, meetings of public agencies when acting in concert to render an opinion concerning the granting, modifying and granting, or denial of a subdivision or other development plan application on its merits and quality.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of March 9, 1988.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission