FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
against Docket #FIC 91-244
Watertown Fire District,
Respondent July 22, 1992
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on December 9, 1991, at which time the complainant 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 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 dated August 5, 1991 and filed August 8, 1991 the complainant appealed to the Commission and alleged that:
a. the respondent's district committee discussed and voted to file a motion in the Connecticut Appellate Court for sanctions without formally voting to do so at a public meeting; and
b. during a July 15, 1991 meeting the respondent's district committee convened an executive session and allowed additional persons to remain during the executive session in violation of the Freedom of Information (hereinafter "FOI") Act.
3. It is found that on July 15, 1991 the respondent's district committee and board of water commissioners (hereinafter "water board") jointly held a regular meeting (hereinafter "July meeting").
4. It is found that the district committee is the governing body of the Watertown Fire District.
Docket #FIC 91-244 Page 2
5. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.a, above, the complainant maintains that during the July meeting, under consideration of "Discussion of North Street - Dobronte et al. verses Zoning Board of Appeals of the Watertown Fire District," (hereinafter "Dobronte matter") there was discussion of the respondent's motion for sanctions (hereinafter "sanctions motion") that was pending in the Connecticut Appellate Court.
6. It is found that the sanctions motion was filed by the respondent's counsel on July 9, 1991 against the plaintiffs in the Dobronte matter.
7. It is also found that the plaintiffs in the Dobronte matter had unsuccessfully appealed a decision of the respondent's zoning board of appeals to the Superior Court, and had also unsuccessfully filed a "Petition for Certification" to the Connecticut Appellate Court.
8. It is also found that during discussion of the Dobronte matter at the July meeting, members of the public asked for clarification concerning how the decision to file the sanctions motion was made.
9. The complainant maintains that in response to the queries described in paragraph 8 above, certain members of the respondent's district committee and water board indicated that they had discussed whether to file the sanctions motion sometime prior to its filing.
10. The respondent maintains that its counsel spoke with its superintendent and advised the superintendent of the appropriateness of filing a sanctions motion, and that the respondent's superintendent spoke to the chairman of the district committee who told him to proceed with the filing of the sanctions motion.
11. The respondent further maintains that the decision to file a sanctions motion was an administrative decision that did not require a formal vote of the district committee.
12. It is found that the complainant failed to prove that members of the district committee, other than its chairman, discussed whether to file a sanctions motion prior to the time it was filed.
13. It is further found that the respondent did not conduct a vote or otherwise act outside the context of a public
Docket #FIC 91-244 Page 3
meeting, when its superintendent and chairman of its district committee decided to file the sanctions motion; and it is concluded therefore that the respondent did not violate the FOI Act with respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.a, above.
14. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.b above, it is found that under item 6 of the July meeting, the district committee and the water board convened an executive session for the purpose of discussing a complaint filed by the complainant against the respondent's zoning board of appeals.
15. Section 1-18a(e)(2), G.S., permits a public agency to exclude members of the public from its meetings for the purpose of "strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims and litigation to which the public agency or a member thereof...is a party until such litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled..."
16. It is found that at the time of the July 15, 1991 meeting, Docket #FIC 90-463, Denis O'Sullivan v. Watertown Fire District Zoning Board of Appeals was pending before this Commission.
17. It is therefore concluded that the July 15, 1991 executive session was convened for a permissible purpose within the meaning of 1-18a(e)(2), G.S.
18. Section 1-21g, G.S., provides that attendance at an executive session "shall be limited to members of said body and persons invited by said body to present testimony or opinion pertinent to matters before said body..."
19. It is found that three members of the district committee, three members of the water board, the respondent's superintendent and assistant superintendent were present during the executive session in question.
20. The complainant maintains that it was improper for the members of the water board to attend the executive session described in paragraph 14, above.
21. It is found however, since the July 15, 1991 meeting was a joint meeting of both the district committee and the water board, that the attendance of members of both committees was permissible pursuant to 1-21g, G.S.
Docket #FIC 91-244 Page 4
22. The respondent maintains that the attendance of the superintendent and assistant superintendent at the executive session was also permissible because they were invited for the purpose of presenting their opinions concerning the pending matter before the FOI Commission.
23. It is concluded that the presence of the respondent's superintendent and assistant superintendent during the July 15, 1991 executive session for the purpose of offering their individual opinions concerning the pending FOI Commission decision did not constitute a violation of the provisions of 1-21g, G.S.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The complaint is hereby dismissed.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 22, 1992.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 91-244 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:
238 North Street
Watertown, CT 06795
JOHN H. CASSIDY, JR., ESQ.
Secor, Cassidy & McPartland, P.C.
41 Church Street
P.O. box 2818
Waterbury, CT 06723-2818
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission