FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Rebecca Thomas and The Register-Citizen,
against Docket #FIC 89-435
Town of Canaan-Falls Village Board of Finance,
Respondent July 9, 1990
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 2, 1990, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The above-captioned matter was consolidated for hearing with docket #FIC89-437, Susan M. Gale and The Lakeville Journal v. Town of Canaan-Falls Village Board of Finance.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter of complaint dated November 13, 1989, and filed with the Commission on November 22, 1989, the complainant alleged the following:
(a). the respondent held a meeting on October 27, 1989, (hereinafter "meeting"), at which a member of the Falls Village Board of Education, (hereinafter "board of education"), was invited to update the respondent on current Region I teacher contract negotiations, (hereinafter "negotiations");
(b). the respondent board improperly voted to hold the discussion concerning those negotiations in an executive session in violation of 1-18a(e), G. S.;
(c). after entering into the illegally held executive session, the respondent further violated the Freedom of Information Act, (hereinafter the "FOIA"), by unlawfully permitting two individuals to remain in attendance throughout the executive session in violation of 1-21g(a), G.S.;
(d). the respondent improperly voted to adjourn its public meeting during the executive session segment of the meeting.
Docket #FIC 89-435 Page 2
3. The respondent acknowledges its error in voting to adjourn its meeting while in executive session. However, it contends that its stated purpose for calling the executive session was a lawful one because it was done for the following reasons:
(a). to accommodate the board of education's agreement with the teacher's union that the details of the collective bargaining process would be kept confidential, and
(b). to obtain information about the negotiations which would facilitate the respondent's efforts in estimating the impact of proposed teacher's salaries on the tax rate of the town.
4. It is found that the respondent voted to enter into an executive session despite the objections of the chairperson of the board of education, who told the respondent that the only lawful way to hold the discussion was in a "non-meeting" forum.
5. It is found that the respondent voted to enter into the executive session despite the objections of the complainant who offered to both furnish a copy of the FOIA to the respondent, and to cite it to the specific statutory language which proscribed its actions.
6. It is found that all persons not invited by the respondent to participate in the executive session were asked to leave the public meeting.
7. It is found that in the absence of state statute, neither the terms of a collective bargaining agreement nor promises made during a collective bargaining process supersede the provisions of the FOIA. Therefore, it is found that the respondent board entered into an executive session for a stated purpose other than that explicitly contained in the language of 1-18a(e), G. S.
8. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondent's actions at its meeting as outlined in paragraphs 4 and 5 of the findings above, and its decision to call an executive session at its meeting violated 1-18a(e) and 1-21, G. S.
Docket #FIC 89-435 Page 3
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended
on the basis of the record concerning the above captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth the respondent shall strictly comply with the open meetings requirements of 1-21, G. S., and the executive session provisions of 1-18a(e) and 1-21g(a), G. S.
2. The Commission admonishes the respondent for its willful disregard of information which would have afforded it an opportunity to educate itself before it engaged in the unlawful activity which made this action necessary. The Commission advises the respondent that in the future it should consult either the FOIA or the Commisssion before it takes the unnecessary risk of running afoul of the FOIA.
3. The Commission notes that on the evening of March 22, 1990, one of its staff attorneys conducted an educational workshop on the FOIA in Falls Village. The Commission deplores the failure of the respondent to have its members attend that workshop.
4. In light of the foregoing, the Commission cautions the respondent that unless it acts more responsibly in complying with the requirements of the FOIA, the Commission is inclined to impose the maximum sanctions permissible by law for any future violations of the FOIA.
Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of July 9, 1990.
Tina C. Frappier
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 89-435 Page 4
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:
REBECCA THOMAS AND THE REGISTER-CITIZEN
P.O. Box 1077
Canaan, CT 06018
TOWN OF CANAAN-FALLS VILLAGE BOARD OF FINANCE
Falls Village, CT 06031
Tina C. Frappier
Acting Clerk of the Commission