FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Christopher Hoffman and Norwich Bulletin,
against Docket #FIC 91-391
Morton Sherman, Superintendent/Principal, Norwich Free Academy, Arthur Estes, Treasurer, Norwich Free Academy and Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees,
Respondents December 9, 1992
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 23, 1992, at which time the complainants and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. On December 10, 1991, complainant Hoffman orally requested from the respondent treasurer, access to examine Norwich Free Academy's (hereinafter "NFA") line-item budgets for the years 1987 through 1992.
3. Subsequently, by letter to the respondent Superintendent dated December 11, 1991, and in response to a request from a member of NFA's staff that their request be put in writing, the complainants requested access to examine NFA documents that provide "detail equivalent to a typical school system line-item or operating budget" for the academic years 1990-1991, 1989-1990, 1988-1989 and 1987-1988.
4. By letter dated December 13, 1991 and filed on December 16, 1991, the complainants appealed to the Commission and alleged that the respondents denied their requests to examine
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the requested records. The complainants also alleged that the respondents' requirement that the complainants put their request in writing violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act. In addition, the complainants asked the Commission to impose civil penalties against the respondents.
5. It is found that on or about December 12, 1991, the respondents provided the complainants with a copy of documents entitled: "General Purposes Fund, Budget by Function, As Approved by the Executive Committee" (hereinafter "general purposes budgets") for each of the years at issue.
6. It is found that the general purposes budgets contain the expense-side of NFA's budget but do not contain revenue information, and that the various accounts are identified by number only.
7. The complainants maintain that the general purposes budgets are not sufficiently detailed and do not include such items as revenue schedules, salary breakdowns or office/department breakdowns. The complainants maintain that the respondents were aware that they were seeking more information than that which was provided to them.
8. It is found that on or about December 26, 1991, the respondent provided the complainants with additional records that were responsive to the complainants' request, that included more detailed information and included a key to the coding of those documents, including the general purposes budgets.
9. The respondents contend that they do not have the type of line-item budget sought by the complainants and that the complainants received the most definitive budgets and budget information that was available at the time of the complainants' request.
10. The complainants contend that the respondents should maintain a more detailed budget than the general purposes budgets and that the respondents' failure to provide the additional records supplementing the general purposes budgets until December 26, 1991, violated the FOI Act.
11. It is concluded that nothing in the FOI Act requires NFA to maintain a more detailed budget than the general purposes budget described in paragraph 6, above.
12. However, 1-19(a), G.S. in relevant part, provides:
"...all records maintained or kept on file by any
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public agency, whether or not such records are required
by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall
be public records and every person shall have the
right to inspect such records promptly during
regular office or business hours..."
13. Section 1-15, G.S., provides:
Any person applying in writing shall receive
promptly upon upon request, a plain or certified
copy of any public record."
14. It is found that some of the documents provided to the complainants on December 26, 1991 were located on a computer storage device and were not available in paper copy at the time of the request.
15. It is also found that within a few days of the complainants' letter of request, the respondents offered to permit the complainant Hoffman to view the computer-stored documents on a computer screen.
16. It is also found that the complainants declined to view the computer-stored documents on computer screen, indicating they preferred a paper copy.
17. It is also found that the respondents were aware from their numerous communications with the complainants that the complainants were seeking access to more information than that which was contained in the general purposes budgets.
18. It is further found that the respondents could have provided a copy of the documents provided on December 26, 1991 on an earlier date, even though some of those documents had to be printed out.
19. It is concluded therefore that the respondents violated the FOI Act by failing to provide prompt access to the documents referred to in paragraph 8, above, as required in 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
20. Section 1-19(a), G.S., does not permit a public agency to require that a request to inspect public records be reduced to writing.
21. It is found under the facts of this case however, that the complainants request was, in reality a request for a copy of documents; and it is concluded therefore that the respondents did not violate the provisions of 1-19(a), G.S., by requiring the complainants to put their request in writing.
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22. The Commission in its discretion declines to impose civil penalties.
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 provisions of 1-15 and 1-19(a), G.S.
2. The Commission notes that this case seems to have been a result of a failure of the parties to effectively communicate with one another. The Commission urges the parties in the strongest terms to communicate more effectively with respect to future FOI requests by attempting to avoid unnecessary appeals to this Commission.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of December 9, 1992.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
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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:
66 Franklin Street
Norwich, CT 06360
Morton Sherman, Superintendent/ Principal, Norwich Free Academy,Arthur Estes, Treasurer, Norwich Free Academy and Norwich Free Academy Board of Trustees
c/o Attorney Richard D. O'Conner
Siegel, O'Conner, Shiff
370 Asylum Avenue
Hartford, CT 06103
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission