FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Charles J. Hess,

 

Complainant,

 

against Docket #FIC 87-351

 

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 complainant 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 complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that at the respondent's public hearing of November 4, 1987:

 

a. the public was not allowed to speak,

 

b. 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 complainant also requested that the respondent's meeting be declared null and void.

 

4. The respondent claims 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 the public not being allowed

 

Docket # FIC 87-351 Page Two

 

to speak, finding no requirement for allowing the public to speak 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.

 

14. It is found, therefore, 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:

 

Docket #FIC 87-351 Page Three

 

1. The respondent henceforth shall act in strict compliance with 1-21(a), 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