In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION


Howard Carlson,




against Docket #FIC 88‑232


Chairman, Middlefield Inland Wetlands Commission and Middlefield Inland Wetlands Commission,


Respondents November 9, 1988


The above‑captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 9, 1988, 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1‑18a(a), G.S.


2. The respondent commission held a meeting on June 8, 1988, the notice of which included the item "[r]eport on Carlson's Pond." The meeting convened at approximately 7:15 p.m. and adjourned at 9:32 p.m.


3. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on June 17, 1988 the complainant alleged that because the respondent held its June 8, 1988 meeting in a small room he and at least three others were forced to observe from the hallway. The complainant further alleged that at 9:00 p.m. the meeting room door was closed, locking out those in the hallway, and that such action was taken to exclude the public from a discussion of "a controversy in town."


4. It is found that due to the limited space in the Middlefield town hall the respondent's June 8, 1988 meeting was held in a bookkeeper's office which can accommodate eight to ten people. The respondent commission consists of five members.


5. It is found that at approximately 7:35 p.m. a member of the respondent, having noticed the complainant observing from the hallway and knowing that the complainant's pond would be discussed, offered the complainant a seat in the meeting room, which the complainant declined.


Docket #FIC 88‑232 Page Two



6. The complainant claims that he declined the offer because he was not making a presentation and because he preferred not leaving his teenaged daughter unattended in the hallway.


7. It is found that the complainant was not denied access to the respondent commission's June 8, 1988 meeting due to the size of the meeting room. Rather, it was his choice not to accept the offered seat.


8. However, the respondents' failure to accommodate persons other than the complainant, upon realizing that such other persons were being forced to stand in the hallway, violated 1‑21(a), G.S.


9. The respondents claim that the door to the meeting room was closed at the respondent chairman's request due to noise in the hallway.


10. The respondents further claim that they were unaware anyone was locked out and would have opened the door for anyone asking to be let in.


11. The complainant made no attempt to try the door, nor did he ask to be let in. The complainant claims that he made no effort to enter because he knew the door had an automatic lock and believed that the door was shut in order to exclude the public.


12. It is found that the closing of a meeting room door, alone, is not prohibited by 1‑21(a), G.S.


13. It is further found that the closing of the door to the respondent commission's June 8, 1988 meeting was accompanied by neither an overt action to lock the door nor any verbal indication that the meeting was thereafter closed to the public.


14. Under the circumstances, it is found that the closing of the door to the respondent commission's June 8, 1988 meeting did not violate 1‑21(a), G.S.


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


1. The respondent commission henceforth shall hold meetings in a facility large enough to accommodate all interested persons, as required by 1‑21(a), G.S.


Docket #FIC 88‑232 Page Three


2. The Commission notes that paragraph 1 of the order, above, does not require that the respondent commission's meetings be held in a room of any particular size. However, if the respondent commission chooses to meet in a small facility it must be prepared to move its meeting to a larger one should the size of the room prove inadequate.


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



Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission