FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Dan Haar and the Hartford Courant,

 

Complainants

 

against Docket #FIC 88-53 (Remand)

 

Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools of the Town of Suffield,

 

Respondents October 25, 1989

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 19, 1988, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. At its special meeting on August 24, 1988, the Commission voted unanimously to admit Dr. David Johnson as a party to the case and to reopen the hearing. On October 31, 1988, the parties again appeared and presented further testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

The hearing on this matter was reopened on September 11, 1989, per order of the Superior Court (Kaplan, J.) dated May 26, 1989. This matter was consolidated for hearing on September 11, 1989, with Docket #FIC 88-57.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

 

1. The respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated February 2, 1988, the complainants requested access to:

 

a. all correspondence sent by the respondents board and superintendent or their employees or members of the respondent board of education to David Johnson concerning his employment,

 

b. documented reasons for the respondent board's November 20, 1987, suspension of David Johnson,

 

c. and any correspondence sent or received by the respondents board and superintendent relating to an agreement between David Johnson and the respondent board at the time of Johnson's resignation.

 

Docket #FIC 88-53 (Remand) Page Two

 

3. By letter dated February 2, 1988, the respondent superintendent denied the complainants' request.

 

4. By letter dated February 9, 1988, and filed with the Commission on February 10, 1988, the complainants appealed to the Commission.

 

5. The respondents board and superintendent claim that:

 

a. the employee who is the subject of the requested records filed a timely objection to their disclosure, which prohibits the respondents from disclosing the records under 1-20a(c), G.S.;

 

b. the requested records are records of a teacher's performance and evaluation and, therefore, exempt from disclosure under 10-151c, G.S.; and

 

c. the requested records are exempt under 1-19(b)(2), G.S., as their disclosure would invade the teacher's personal privacy.

 

6. David Johnson claims that:

 

a. the requested records are exempt from disclosure under the 10-151(d), G.S., provisions allowing a teacher to have a confidential termination hearing;

 

b. the requested records are records of a teacher's performance and evaluation and, therefore, exempt from disclosure under 10-151c, G.S.; and

 

c. the requested records are exempt under 1-19(b)(2), G.S., as their disclosure would invade his personal privacy.

 

7. At the hearing on September 11, 1989, the Hearing Officer accepted certain records for in camera inspection by the Commission. An additional record was accepted for in camera inspection on September 27, 1989.

 

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

9. It is found that David Johnson is the former principal of Suffield high school.

 

10. It is found that no written agreement exists between the respondent board and David Johnson.

 

Docket #FIC 88-53 (Remand) Page Three

 

11. It is found that the requested records consist of:

 

a. three written complaints generated within the school system,

 

b. a letter from Attorney John Gesmonde to Attorney Tom Mooney requesting the reasons the respondent board was considering termination of its contract with David Johnson,

 

c. and two letters from Attorney Tom Mooney to Attorney John Gesmonde, explaining those reasons.

 

12. It is found that these records are not records of teacher performance and evaluation within the meaning of 10-151c, G.S.

 

13. It is concluded, therefore, that these records are not exempt from disclosure under 10-151c, G.S.

 

14. It is also concluded that 10-151(d), G.S., nowhere prohibits the disclosure of these records.

 

15. It is found that David Johnson filed his objection to disclosure of the records in a timely manner.

 

16. It is found that the requested records are personnel records within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

17. It is further found that Exhibit 7, the second page of a letter the first page of which already has been made public, contains no personal information about David Johnson and would not invade his personal privacy if disclosed.

 

18. Thus it is concluded that 1-19(b)(2), G.S., does not exempt Exhibit 7 from disclosure.

 

19. It is found that the third paragraph of the third page of the respondents' Exhibit 6 contains information not related to David Johnson's public employment and that the disclosure of it would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.

 

20. It is concluded, therefore, that that paragraph is exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S.

 

21. It is found that the rest of Exhibit 6 and all of the respondents' Exhibit 5 and Exhibit 7 pertain directly to David Johnson's public employment.

 

22. It is found that disclosure of the names of third persons contained in exhibit 5 would constitute an invasion of personal privacy of those persons.

 

Docket #FIC 87-53 (Remand) Page Four

 

23. It is found that a public employee, who voluntarily chooses to serve the public and be paid with public funds, has

limited his or her personal privacy rights in matters pertaining to his or her public employment.

 

24. It is found that there is a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of records about its employee in matters pertaining to his employment.

 

25. It is also found that there is a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the reasons why a public agency was considering termination of a contract with its public employee.

 

26. It is also found that there is a legitimate public interest in complaints generated from within a public agency about one of its public employees.

 

27. It is found that there is a heightened public interest in the disclosure of these records about its employee since he was entrusted with the education and welfare of minor children.

 

28. It is also found that there is a heightened public interest in the disclosure of these records as they concern a former principal, the chief administrator of an entire public high school.

 

29. It is concluded that the heightened public interest in disclosure of the records clearly outweighs any limited privacy rights of the subject.

 

30. Thus it is concluded that the requested records are not exempt from disclosure under 1-19(b)(2), G.S., except for the paragraph described in paragraph 19, above, and the names of third persons contained in exhibit 5.

 

31. It is further concluded that the respondents violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide the complainants with prompt access to the requested records, with the exception of the paragraph described in paragraph 19, above, and the names of third persons contained in exhibit 5.

 

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

 

1. The respondents forthwith shall provide the complainants with access to the records which were entered into evidence for in camera inspection as Exhibits 5, 6 and 7.

 

Docket #FIC 88-53 (Remand) Page Five

 

2. In complying with paragraph 1 of this order, the respondents may mask or otherwise redact the paragraph described in paragraphs 19 and 22, above.

 

3. The respondents henceforth shall act in strict compliance with 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of October 25, 1989.

 

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

Docket #FIC 88-53 (Remand) Page Six

 

PURSUANT TO SECTION 4-180(c), G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION, OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.

 

THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:

DAN HAAR AND THE HARTFORD COURANT,

c/o William S. Fish, Esquire

Tyler, Cooper & Alcorn

CityPlace -35th Floor

Hartford, CT 06103

 

BOARD OF EDUCATION AND SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS OF THE TOWN OF SUFFIELD

c/o Thomas N. Sullivan, Esquire

Sullivan, Lettick & Schoen

646 Prospect Avenue

Hartford, CT 06105

 

DAVID JOHNSON

c/o John M. Gesmonde, Esquire

Gesmonde, Pietrosimone, Sgrignari & Pinkus

3127-3129 Whitney Avenue

Hamden, CT 06518

 

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission