FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

 

Virginia Walsh,

 

Complainant

 

against Docket #FIC 90-174

 

Brooklyn Town Clerk and Brooklyn First Selectman,

 

Respondents May 8, 1991

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 24, 1990, at which time the complainant and the respondent town clerk appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. After the hearing, the first selectman was named and served as an additional respondent, and a hearing was scheduled for November 16, 1990. The respondent first selectman then waived his right to a hearing, relying instead on the record produced at the August 24, 1990 hearing.

 

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 of complaint dated May 10, 1990 and filed with the Commission on May 15, 1990, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that:

 

a. her written request to the first selectman for certain records was denied;

 

b. she was quoted erroneous prices for copies of records by the town clerk;

 

c. she was denied access to certain records by the town clerk; and

 

d. her request to the town clerk to listen to a tape recording of a meeting was denied because no tape recorder was available.

 

3. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.a, above, it is found that the complainant by letter dated April 16, 1990 requested from the first selectman information and records responsive to 88 questions, including the minutes of the Brooklyn Resource Recovery Authority ("BRRA") April 11, 1990 meeting, and a copy of the town's proposed line-item budget.

 

Docket #FIC 90-174 Page 2

 

4. By letter dated April 23, 1990 the first selectman replied to the complainant by indicating that she was entitled to appear at the Town Hall and request the file on any subject or the minutes of any meeting, and by quoting a price of $1.00 for the first page and 50 for each additional page.

 

5. It is found that, on April 25, 1990, the complainant orally requested a copy of the line-item budget from the first selectman's office.

 

6. It is found that the complainant was provided with a copy of the line-item budget, which she accepted, but which she subsequently discovered did not include a breakdown for landfill costs, which was the specific information she sought but had not requested.

 

7. It is found that the complainant later requested the breakdown of the landfill costs from the office of the first selectman, and was told that no copies were then available, all being with the board of finance.

 

8. It is concluded that the requested minutes and breakdown of landfill costs are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.

 

9. It is concluded that the respondent first selectman did not violate 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide immediate access to the breakdown of landfill costs, a record principally maintained in another town department.

 

10. It is also found that the complainant obtained a copy of the minutes of the April 11 BRRA meeting from the BRRA's chairman on or about April 23, 1990, and from the town clerk on or about April 27, 1990.

 

11. It is concluded that, although the respondent's failure to comply with the complainant's request for minutes was not unreasonable, he nonetheless technically violated 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide copies of other written records promptly upon request.

 

12. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.b, above, it is found that, although the respondents mistakenly quoted the complainant the wrong price for a plain copy, the mistake did not impair the complainant's rights under the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act, and the complainant was never actually charged the wrong price.

 

13. It is concluded therefore that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act by quoting the complainant the wrong price for a plain copy.

 

Docket #FIC 90-174 Page 3

 

14. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.c, above, it is found that the complainant visited the town clerk's office on April 25, 1990 and asked to see the records necessary to answer the questions raised in her April 19 letter to the first selectman. In particular, the complainant sought to inspect records pertaining to the BRRA.

 

15. It is concluded that the records sought by the complainant are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d), G.S.

 

16. It is found that the respondent town clerk denied the complainant access to any records in her custody except for the minutes and the lists of members of the various commissions, contained in a file designated "FOI."

 

17. The town clerk maintains that, with respect to the BRRA records stored in one drawer of the vault to which she controls access, that her responsibility does not include providing access to the records she withheld, and that she would not give BRRA files other than minutes to anyone, including the first selectman.

 

18. However, it is found that BRRA records are kept in the office of the town clerk, pursuant to 1-19(a), G.S., and that the town clerk is the custodian of those records.

 

19. It is found that the town clerk offered no evidence or argument to prove that the withheld records are exempt from disclosure.

 

20. It is concluded therefore that the respondent town clerk violated 1-19(a), G.S., by denying the complainant access to the non-exempt records in her custody.

 

21. Finally, with respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.d, above, it is found that the complainant during her April 25 visit to the town hall asked to listen to the tape recording of a December 1986 meeting, and was told that no tape player was available.

 

22. Although the respondents now argue that they have since taken the remedial step of acquiring a tape recorder to produce copies of tapes for the public, it is found that the respondents offered no evidence to prove that a tape player was unavailable at the time of the request.

 

23. It is concluded that the respondent town clerk violated 1-19(a), G.S., by denying the complainant prompt access to the requested tape recording.

 

Docket #FIC 90-174 Page 4

 

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

 

1. Henceforth the respondents shall act in strict compliance with the requirements of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S., regarding access to records.

 

2. Within 15 days of the issuance of the notice of the final decision in this matter, the respondent town clerk shall contact Commission staff to arrange her attendance at the next educational workshop conducted by a Commission staff attorney in Brooklyn or the vicinity.

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 8, 1991.

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

Docket #FIC 90-174 Page 5

 

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:

VIRGINIA WALSH

1615 Loralin Drive

Englewood, FL 34223

 

BROOKLYN TOWN CLERK AND BROOKLYN FIRST SELECTMAN

c/o John D. Boland, Esq.

Boland, St. Onge & Brouillard

211 Kennedy Drive

Putnam, CT 06260

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission