FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Barbara Whiting,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 88-156

 

Redding Board of Tax Review,

 

Respondent September 14, 1988

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 17, 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. The respondent filed a schedule of its meetings with the town clerk, indicating that it would hold meetings on March 16, March 17, March 18, and March 19, 1988.

 

3. Pursuant to 12-110, G.S., the respondent posted a "legal notice" with the town clerk on February 24, 1988, indicating that it would meet on March 16, March 17, March 18, and March 19, 1988 to hear the appeals of aggrieved taxpayers regarding the assessments placed on their personal and real estate properties.

 

4. The respondent held meetings on March 16, March 17, March 18, and March 19, 1988 to hear the appeal petitions of aggrieved taxpayers regarding the assessments on the 1987 Grand List.

 

5. By letter of complaint dated April 19, 1988, postmarked on April 21, 1988 and filed with the Commission on April 25, 1988, the complainant alleged that the respondent improperly conducted its appeal hearings in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Docket #FIC 88-156 Page 2

 

6. Specifically, the complainant alleged that the respondent violated 1-19(a) and 1-21(a), G.S., in that:

 

a. It failed to file agendas for the subject meetings.

 

b. It failed to record the votes taken at the subject meetings and no voting record, therefore, was made available for public inspection in a timely fashion.

 

c. The minutes for the subject meetings failed to reflect the votes taken at the meetings and were not available for public inspection within 7 days of the meetings to which they referred.

 

d. It held a secret meeting on March 31, 1988, for which it did not post notice, did not record the votes taken and did not file minutes.

 

e. It failed to make the appeal petitions of aggrieved taxpayers available for public inspection at the town clerk's office during regular office hours.

 

7. The respondent claims that:

 

a. The legal notice filed with the town clerk on February 24, 1988 constitutes the agendas for the subject meetings.

 

b. It did not deny the complainant access to the appeal petitions given the peculiarity of her request and given the fact that the records were available in the Tax Assessor's office during regular office hours.

 

8. At the hearing, the respondent admitted the following:

 

a. Its members discussed the appeal petitions and came to a consensus on each taxpayer's appeal petition without taking a specific vote. They did not record their votes regarding each petition.

 

b. The minutes of the subject meetings were not filed within the time limits prescribed in 1-21(a), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 88-156 Page 3

 

c. Its members met on March 31, 1988 to discuss and to decide the status of approximately 12 appeal petitions that they had not acted upon during the subject meetings. They failed to file notice, to record votes and to file minutes of the meeting.

 

9. At the hearing, the complainant requested the Commission to declare the votes taken by the respondent's members on the appeal petitions null and void.

 

10. The respondent claims that the Commission lacks jurisdiction over any alleged violation that occurred at the subject meetings since the letter of complaint was not filed within thirty days of an alleged violation within the meaning of 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

11. It is found that the Commission lacks jurisdiction over the actions taken by the respondent at the subject meetings since the letter of complaint was filed more than thirty days after the subject meetings were held within the meaning of 1-21i(b), G.S.

 

12. This report, therefore, will address only those issues concerning the record of votes and the filing of minutes with respect to the subject meetings.

 

13. It is found that the respondent's members discussed approximately 75 appeal petitions at the subject meetings and came to a consensus concerning each petition without taking a specific vote on each petition. Consequently, no voting record was made available for public inspection.

 

14. It is found that the respondent's decision either to grant or to deny a taxpayer's appeal was recorded on each of the appeal petitions.

 

15. It also is found that pursuant to 1-21(a), G.S., the votes of each agency member upon any issue before the agency shall be reduced to writing and shall be made available for public inspection within 48 hours of the meetings at which such votes were taken.

 

16. It further is found that a consensus constitutes a vote on an issue before a public agency within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 88-156 Page 4

 

17. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S., by failing to record the votes taken by its members at the subject meetings and by failing to make a record of votes available to the public in a timely fashion.

 

18. It is found that the respondent filed minutes of the subject meetings with the town clerk on April 8, 1988 and that the minutes failed to reflect the votes taken by its members on each appeal petition.

 

19. It is found that pursuant to 1-21(a), G.S., the minutes of a regular meeting shall be made available for public inspection within 7 days of the meeting to which they refer and shall reflect the votes of each agency member upon each issue before the agency at that meeting.

 

20. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S., by failing to file the minutes of the subject meetings in a timely fashion and by failing to record the votes taken by its members in the minutes of the subject meetings.

 

21. It is found that all three members of the respondent met on March 31, 1988 to discuss and to decide the status of approximately 12 appeal petitions which they had not considered at the subject meetings.

 

22. It is found that the respondent's March 31, 1988 gathering constituted the convening of a quorum of a multi-member public agency for the purpose of discussing and acting upon matters over which the respondent has supervision, control, jurisdiction and advisory power.

 

23. It is concluded that the respondent's March 31, 1988 gathering was a meeting within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., and it, therefore, is subject to the meeting requirements set forth in 1-21(a), G.S.

 

24. It also is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S., by failing to post notice of its March 31, 1988 meeting, failing to record the votes taken by its members at the meeting and failing to file minutes of the meeting.

 

25. The Commission, in its discretion, declines to declare the votes taken at the respondent's March 31, 1988 meeting described in paragraph 21, above, null and void.

 

26. It is found that aggrieved taxpayers submit petitions to the respondent concerning their assessments.

 

Docket #FIC 88-156 Page 5

 

27. It is found that the appeal petitions are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.

 

28. It is found that at the Board of Tax Assessors' April 4, 1988 meeting, the complainant made a request to the Chief Assessor to inspect the appeal petitions.

 

29. It is found that the Chief Assessor directed the complainant to make her request to the chairman of the respondent.

 

30. It is found that on April 4, 1988, the complainant telephoned the chairman of the respondent at his home, late in the evening, and reiterated her request. The chairman informed the complainant that he did not know where the appeal petitions were located at that time.

 

31. It is found that the complainant neither requested access to the appeal petitions at the tax assessor's office nor did she make her request to the chairman or to the town clerk during regular office hours.

 

32. It therefore is concluded that the complainant did not make a request for the appeal petitions within the meaning of 1-19(a), G.S.

 

33. The Commission notes that pursuant to 1-19(a), G.S., the appeal petitions shall be kept in an accessible place and shall be made available for public inspection at all times during regular office hours.

 

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

 

1. The respondent forthwith shall amend the minutes of its March 16, March 17, March 18 and March 19, 1988 meetings to reflect the consensus reached by its members concerning the status of each appeal petition considered at those meetings respectively.

 

2. The respondent forthwith shall reconstruct minutes of its March 31, 1988 meeting, which shall reflect the time, date, place of the meeting, the identities of the agency members, the business that transpired at the meeting and how each member of of the respondent voted on each appeal petition that was acted upon at that meeting.

 

Docket #FIC 88-156 Page 6

 

3. Henceforth, the respondent shall act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-21(a), G.S., regarding the filing of minutes, the posting of notices and agendas for public meetings and the recording of votes of agency members.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of September 14, 1988.

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission