In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION


John R. Thompson and Oronoque Village Condominium,




against Docket #FIC 87-349


Stratford Board of Zoning Appeals,


Respondent March 29, 1988


The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on January 12, 1988, 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. By letter dated November 30, 1987, and filed with the Commission on December 1, 1987, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging that at the respondent's public hearing of November 4, 1987:


a. the proceedings were not properly tape recorded;


b. the meeting was continued to a time less than 24 hours after the original meeting time, but the respondent did not post a notice of continuance;


c. when the Fire Marshal decided the meeting place was unsafe and should be relocated, the respondent did not file a timely notice;


d. and members of the public were denied the right to attend the meeting because the chairperson ordered those standing in the meeting room and adjacent halls to leave and many did before the respondent made the decision to move the meeting to a larger space in a nearby school auditorium.


3. At the hearing the complainants also requested that the respondent's meeting be declared null and void.


Docket # FIC 87-349 Page Two


4. The respondent claims that timely notices of relocation and continuation were posted and filed and that during the meeting no one was told to go home, merely to clear the meeting room's aisles, doorways and adjacent hallways. The respondent also claims that the complaint is frivolous.


5. At the hearing, the hearing officer declined to take evidence on the allegations about improper taping of the meeting, finding no requirement for taping public meetings in the Freedom of Information Act.


6. It is found that the respondent usually holds its meetings, including public hearings, in the council chambers in the Stratford town hall.


7. It is found that when the respondent's chairman called the meeting in question to order, people filled the council chambers to overflowing and stood in the aisles, doorways and adjacent hallways.


8. It is found that right after the chairman opened the meeting, before he finished introducing the first item of business, the Stratford fire marshal informed the chairman that the room was unsafe.


9. It is further found that the chairman told the public that the respondent could not conduct the meeting under those circumstances, that the nearby school auditorium was unavailable, and that those crowding the sides of the room and the hallway would have to leave or the meeting could not go forward.


10. It is found that, although many members of the public stayed until it was learned that the school auditorium would become available, some members of the public did leave the meeting in response to the chairman's statements.


11. It is found that the meeting began at 7:30 p.m. as scheduled, and that the chairman announced at 7:47 p.m. that the respondent would recess then and reconvene in the school auditorium at 8:20 p.m.


12. It is found that the meeting did reconvene at the new location at 8:20 p.m., attended by many members of the public.


13. Nonetheless, it is concluded that those members of the public who left when told to do so were denied the right to attend a public meeting, in violation of 1-21(a), G.S.


Docket #FIC 87-349 Page Three


14. It is found that the respondent did not meet its burden of proving that it conspicuously posted a notice of continuance of hearing on or near the council chambers door immediately after recessing.


15. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondent violated 1-21e, G.S., by not fulfilling this notice requirement.


16. It is further found that the respondent did not file a copy of the minutes of the relocated meeting, setting forth the nature of the emergency, with the Stratford town clerk within seventy-two hours after the meeting.


17. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondent violated 1-21f, G.S., by not fulfilling this notice requirement.


18. It is also concluded that the complaint was not frivolous.


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


1. The respondent henceforth shall act in strict compliance with 1-21(a), 1-21e, and 1-21f, G.S.


2. The respondent shall schedule a workshop for its members and staff on the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. The respondent shall make the necessary arrangements with the Commission's staff so that the workshop shall be held no later than 60 days from the mailing of the notice of final decision in this case. The Commission reminds the respondent that its workshop will constitute a public meeting to which all are welcome.


3. The Commission hereby declares null and void all actions concerning the Barges and Clemente appeals against the zoning enforcement officer taken at the respondent's meeting of November 4, 1987.


Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of March 23, 1988.



Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission