FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Matthew Bertron, David Goddard and the Register Citizen,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 88-113

 

Board of Selectmen, Town Manager and Mayor of the Town of Winchester,

 

Respondents August 10, 1988

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 31, 1988, at which time the complainants 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. At a March 1, 1988 special meeting, the Highland Lake commission of the Town of Winchester composed a rough draft of a letter to the respondent board of selectmen concerning water safety and water quality proposals, and announced that a final draft of the letter would be reviewed at the commission's March 16, 1988 meeting.

 

3. At its March 16, 1988 meeting the Highland Lake commission approved the final draft of the letter, to be delivered to the respondent board of selectmen by the respondent town manager.

 

4. At the March 16, 1988 meeting of the Highland lake commission the complainant Bertron requested a copy of the letter, but was told by the commission chairman that the respondent town manager had asked her not to release the letter.

 

5. On March 17, 1988 the complainant Bertron made a request of the respondent town manager for a copy of the letter in question and was told by the respondent town manager that he had not yet received the letter. The respondent town manager received the letter on March 18, 1988.

 

6. On March 18, 1988 the complainant Bertron made a second request of the respondent town manager for

 

Docket #FIC 88-113 Page Two

 

a copy of the letter and was told that, upon advice of counsel, the letter would not be released until it had been delivered to the letter's addressee, the board of selectmen.

 

7. On or about March 18, 1988 the respondent town manager prepared a packet of information, including the letter in question, for a regular meeting of the respondent board scheduled for March 21, 1988.

 

8. The respondent board was scheduled to hold a budget meeting on March 18, 1988 at 7:30 p.m., at which time the packets of information for the March 21, 1988 meeting were to be distributed to board members.

 

9. At approximately 7:15 p.m. on March 18, 1988, the complainant Register Citizen, through a reporter, Tim Quinson, made a request of the respondent mayor for a copy of the letter in question. The respondent mayor, who is a member of the respondent board, stated that he would release a copy of the letter at the close of the budget meeting, after copies of the letter had been distributed to other members of the respondent board.

 

10. Mr. Quinson did not remain until the adjournment of the March 18, 1988 meeting and, consequently, did not receive a copy of the letter on that date.

 

11. Mr. Quinson attended the respondent board's March 21, 1988 regular meeting at 7:00 p.m. and received a copy of the letter at that time.

 

12. By letter dated March 21, 1988 and filed with the Commission on March 25, 1988 the complainants alleged that the respondents failed to release the letter from the Highland Lake commission in a timely manner.

 

13. It is found that the letter in question related to the conduct of the public's business and was prepared by an agency of the Town of Winchester on or prior to March 16, 1988.

 

14. It is concluded that at all times relevant to the complaint the letter in question was a public record within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.

 

15. It is found that nothing in the Freedom of Information Act exempts a public record from disclosure on the ground that it has not been delivered to the addressee.

 

Docket #FIC 88-113 Page Three

 

16. The respondents failed to prove that the letter in question, at the time of the complainant Bertron's March 18, 1988 request, was exempt from disclosure pursuant to other state statute or federal law.

 

17. It is concluded that the respondent town manager violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S. when he failed to provide the complainant Bertron with a copy of the requested letter on March 18, 1988.

 

18. At hearing, the respondents moved to dismiss the complaint against the respondents mayor and board on the ground that the complainants failed to make a request for the letter during regular business hours.

 

19. It is found that the request directed by Mr. Quinson to the respondents mayor and board was not a request to inspect records within the meaning of 1-19(a), G.S., but was a request for a copy of a record within the meaning of 1-15, G.S. Nothing in 1-15 or 1-19(a), G.S. limits requests for copies of records to regular business hours. The respondents' motion to dismiss on such basis is, therefore, denied.

 

20. It is found that the respondent mayor received Mr. Quinson's written request for a copy of the letter approximately 15 minutes prior to the convening of the March 18, 1988 meeting.

 

21. It is further found that the respondents failed to prove any impediment to immediate access to the record other than the respondent mayor's desire to place copies of the letter in the hands of other board members prior to releasing it to Mr. Quinson.

 

22. It is concluded that the respondent mayor and respondent board, as represented by the respondent mayor, violated 1-15, G.S. when they failed to provide the complainant Register Citizen, through Mr. Quinson, with a copy of the requested record prior to their March 18, 1988 meeting.

 

23. At hearing, the respondents moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety on the ground that the Highland Lake commission was not named as a respondent.

 

24. It is found that the relevant requests for records were directed to the named respondents. The fact that an initial, preliminary request was denied by the Highland Lake commission does not necessitate naming such agency as a party herein. The respondents' motion to dismiss on such basis is hereby denied.

 

Docket #FIC 88-113 Page Four

 

25. At hearing, the complainants requested that the Commission order the respondents to attend a training session on issues relating to the Freedom of Information Act.

 

26. It is found that in March, 1988, the Town of Winchester sponsored a training session for its employees which included a discussion by the town attorney of the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

27. Under the circumstances, the Commission declines to grant the relief requested by the complainants.

 

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

 

1. The respondents henceforth shall comply with the requirements of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., regarding prompt access to copies of public records.

 

2. Although the circumstances of the above matter do not indicate the necessity of a Commission-ordered training session so soon following the respondents' March, 1988 session, the Commission notes that its staff members are available for such a session should the respondents desire one, and are also available to respond to questions on the subject of the Freedom of Information Act. The Commission strongly suggests that the respondents avail themselves of such services.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of August 10, 1988.

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission