FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Robert L. Munhall,
against Docket #FIC 91-339
Lebanon Inland Wetlands Commission,
Respondent September 23, 1992
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 8, 1992, 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 October 22, 1991 and filed October 24, 1991, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that on October 19, 1991, his attendance at a field inspection of the respondent was challenged by members of the respondent, that he was only permitted to remain in attendance after the individual property owner of the site under inspection by the respondent gave her permission, and that the respondent's policy concerning the public's attendance at field inspections violates the Freedom of Information Act.
3. It is found that the respondent held a special meeting, on October 19, 1991 for the purpose of conducting field inspections at two private property locations.
4. It is also found that upon his arrival at the second site to be inspected during the October 19, 1991 meeting, the complainant was informed that he could not remain in attendance for the inspection unless the property owner authorized his attendance.
Docket #FIC 91-339 Page 2
5. It is also found that the property owner of the second site that was being inspected on October 19, 1991 gave permission for the complainant to remain on the premises, and that the complainant was therefore allowed to remain during the field inspection meeting.
6. It is also found that it is the respondent's policy not to allow members of the public to attend field inspections, unless the private property owner expressly gives permission to do so, and that if the property owner does not grant permission, members of the public are not allowed to attend the field inspections.
7. The respondent maintains that permission to enter onto private property applies only to members of the respondent commission and does not extend to members of the public; and further, that only members of the respondent are covered under the town of Lebanon's insurance policy when the respondent conducts field inspections on private properties. Therefore, the respondent claims it is justified in implementing the policy described in paragraph 6, above.
8. It is found that the respondent did not implement its policy at the site of the first field inspection on October 19, 1991 because the private property owner was not at home during the inspection.
9. The respondent maintains that on occasions such as the one described in paragraph 8 above, when the private property owner is not at home during the field inspection, the respondent's position is that it does not have the authority to deny access to members of the public.
10. Section 1-21(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part that "the meetings of all public agencies, except executive
sessions ... shall be open to the public."
11. Section 1-21(a), G.S., further provides:
"No member of the public shall be required as a
condition to attendance at a meeting of any such
[agency], to register his name, or furnish other
information, or complete a questionnaire or otherwise
fulfill any condition precedent to his attendance."
12. Because the respondent's field inspection on October 19, 1991 constituted a meeting of a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., for which there was no proper
Docket #FIC 91-339 Page 3
purpose for convening an executive session, it is concluded that the respondent imposed upon the complainant, a condition precedent to attendance, in violation of 1-21(a), G.S.
13. It is also concluded that the issue of insurance coverage raised by the respondent does not negate the respondent's obligation to comply with the provisions of 1-21(a), G.S., with respect to any of its meetings, including the October 19, 1991 field inspection meeting.
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 act in strict compliance with the open meeting provisions of 1-21(a), G.S., in the conduct of its field inspection meetings.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 23, 1992.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 91-339 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:
Robert L. Munhall
c/o Attorney Brian R. Smith
Robinson & Cole
One Commercial Plaza
Hartford, CT 06103-3597
Lebanon Inland Wetlands Commission
c/o Attorney Juri E. Taalman
Taalman & Phillips, P.C.
12 Case Street
Norwich, CT 06360
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission