FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Fred Laberge and New Haven Register,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 88‑269

 

New Haven Board of Education,

 

Respondent December 14, 1988

 

The above‑captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 29, 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. On May 25, 1988 the board of aldermen of the City of New Haven approved the city's budget.

 

3. The chairman of the respondent, in a May 26, 1988 letter to the mayor of the City of New Haven, expressed certain concerns regarding the city's budget.

 

4. In a June 10, 1988 letter, the mayor responded to the chairman and suggested that the city's chief administrative officer, John DeStefano, Jr., meet with the respondent "to review the status of the entire Department of Education budget."

 

5. The respondent held a meeting on June 13, 1988 during which it convened in executive session "to discuss personnel matters, real estate, and litigation." John DeStefano, Jr. attended the executive session, as did the respondent's attorney, Lubie Harper.

 

6. By letter of complaint filed with the Commission on July 6, 1988 the complainants alleged that the respondent's June 13, 1988 executive session was held to allow Mr. DeStefano to speak, and to allow members of the respondent to question him, concerning the city's position on the budget, and that such was not a permissible purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1‑18a(e), G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 88‑269 Page Two

 

7. It is found that during its June 13, 1988 executive session the respondent and Mr. DeStefano discussed various budget issues, such as the city administration's commitment to assume certain fiscal responsibilities and the overall cost of running New Haven's schools in 1989. Mr. DeStefano also discussed specific budget items, such as a food services program and trash pick up.

 

8. It is found that none of the topics referred to at paragraph 7, above, is a permissible purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1‑18a(e), G.S.

 

9. It is found that while convened in executive session the respondent also discussed the purchase of four floors of a building in New Haven.

 

10. It is found, however, that the respondent made no claim nor offered any proof that publicity regarding the purchase referred to at paragraph 9, above, would cause a likelihood of increased price within the meaning of 1‑18a(e)(4), G.S.

 

11. It is therefore found that the respondent's June 13, 1988 discussion of the purchase of four floors of a building was not a permissible purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1‑18a(e)(4), G.S.

 

12. It is also found that while convened in executive session on June 13, 1988 the respondent discussed the potential need for layoffs of city personnel.

 

13. The respondent claims that its discussion of potential layoffs was properly held in executive session because there would have been "repercussions in the personnel area" if the discussion had been held in public.

 

14. It is found, however, that the respondent's discussion of potential layoffs did not involve the discussion of any particular individual or individuals, and was not a proper purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1‑18a(e)(1), G.S.

 

15. It is further found that the avoidance of "repercussions" is not, without more, a permissible purpose for an executive session within the meaning of 1‑18a(e), G.S.

 

16. The respondent claims that it was not necessary to hold the June 13, 1988 discussion in public session because there were public discussions of the budget both prior to and following June 13, 1988.

 

Docket #FIC 88‑269 Page Three

 

17. Under the Freedom of Information Act, all meetings, as defined in 1‑18a(b), G.S., must be held open to the public, unless the public is excluded for one or more of the purposes listed in 1‑18a(e), G.S. The respondent's claim that a public session was not "necessary" is, therefore, totally without merit.

 

18. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1‑18a(e) and 1‑21(a), G.S. when it convened in executive session to discuss the budget matters more fully described at paragraphs 7, 9 and 12, above.

 

19. It is further concluded that the respondent's denial of the complainants' right to attend its June 13, 1988 discussion of the budget matters more fully described at paragraphs 7, 9, and 12, above, was without reasonable grounds within the meaning of 1‑21i(b), 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 henceforth shall convene in executive session only for one or more of the permissible purposes listed in 1‑18a(e), G.S.

 

2. The respondent, within one month of the mailing of the Final Decision in the above matter, shall hold a workshop for the purpose of educating its members and its attorney on the subject of the Freedom of Information Act. Such workshop shall be attended by each member of the respondent and by the respondent's attorney, Lubie Harper, and shall be conducted by a member of the Commission's staff of attorneys.

 

3. The following members of the respondent are hereby ordered to appear before the Commission at a date to be determined to show cause why a civil penalty should not be imposed pursuant to 1‑21i(b), G.S.: Reverend Edwin R. Edmonds, Clifton Graves, Miguel Rodriquez, Ralph W. Halsey, III, John Horvath, Julia P. Hamilton and Eleanor L. Zimmermann.

 

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

 

 

Catherine H. Lynch

Acting Clerk of the Commission