FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Frank Keegan and The Bristol Press,
against Docket #FIC 92-79
William T. Stortz, William Tracey, George Carpenter, J. Harwood Norton, Aaron Silver, Robert Chmieleski, Ercole Labadia and Bristol Board of Police Commissioners,
Respondents February 24, 1993
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 14, 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 board and its individual members, in their capacity as members of the respondent board, are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter of complaint dated March 2, 1992 and filed March 3, 1992, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents convened an illegal executive session on February 11, 1992 and failed to properly notice the meeting at which the executive session was held as a special meeting.
3. In addition, the complainants requested that the Commission impose civil penalties upon the respondents.
4. It is found that on the morning of February 11, 1992, the respondent board filed a notice of emergency meeting to be convened at 5:00 p.m. that evening.
Docket #FIC 92-79 Page 2
5. It is also found that the stated purpose of the emergency meeting was "to convene in executive session to discuss personnel matters."
6. The respondents maintain that it was necessary for them to convene an emergency meeting because it became apparent on that date to the chairman of the respondent board that Bristol Police Chief Anthony Vastola intended to resign. Further, the respondents maintain that since Vastola was an important department head, they had to make a decision concerning the board's course of action in the wake of his resignation. Additionally, the respondents wanted to be certain that all of the members of the respondent board were informed concerning Vastola's resignation to avoid the circulation of any inaccurate accounts regarding the matter.
7. It is found that during the period prior to Vastola's resignation, Captain Lysaght was serving as Bristol's Acting Chief of Police.
8. It is found that after the executive session at its February 11, 1992 meeting, the respondent board noted in public session that it had received Vastola's resignation and voted to nominate Captain Ahearn as Acting Chief of Police and to direct Bristol's Personnel Director to begin the selection process for a new police chief.
9. It is found that the respondent board makes recommendations to the Bristol City Council regarding appointments to the Bristol Police Department, but that the Council ultimately makes such permanent appointments.
10. It is found that the respondents failed to prove that there was a compelling necessity for them to meet or act on February 11, 1992, without providing the minimum twenty-four hours advance notice required for a special meeting under 1-21(a), G.S.
11. It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated the provisions of 1-21(a), G.S., when they convened their meeting without providing the advance notice to the public required for special meetings.
12. Section 1-18a(e)(1), G.S., permits a public agency to convene an executive session for:
"discussion concerning the appointment, employment,
performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a
public officer or employee, provided that such individual
may require that discussion be held at an open meeting."
Docket #FIC 92-79 Page 3
13. It is found that the actual purpose of the February 11, 1992 executive session was to discuss Vastola's resignation, to apprise fully the respondent board of the events which led to his resignation and to consider what would be the appropriate actions to take in the aftermath of his resignation.
14. It is found that Vastola was present throughout the discussion and did not object to it being conducted in executive session.
15. It is found that the executive session discussion concerning Vastola's resignation did not constitute discussion of the appointment, employment performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a public officer or employee.
16. It is therefore concluded that the respondent board violated the provisions of 1-18a(e)(1), G.S., when it discussed Vastola's resignation in executive session on February 11, 1992.
17. The respondents maintain that they did not discuss the performance of Captains Ahearn or Lysaght during the February 11, 1992 executive session.
18. It is found however, that although the respondent board may not have discussed the performance of Captains Ahearn or Lysaght during the executive session, based upon the other evidence presented, the respondents' witnesses' testimony is not credible and that the respondent board did discuss the appointment of Captain Ahearn to serve as Acting Chief of Police and may have discussed Captain Lysaght to some degree and his resultant removal from that position.
19. It is concluded therefore, any discussion by the respondent board of the appointment of Captain Ahearn as Acting Chief of Police or the removal of then Acting Chief of Police Lysaght, during the executive session, was in violation of 1-18a(e)(1), G.S., because the respondents failed to inform such individuals that they would be discussed in executive session and failed to afford them an opportunity to request a public session.
20. It is further concluded that the respondents violated the provisions of 1-21(a) G.S., by failing to state in the notice of the February 11, 1992 meeting the reason for the executive session in a manner which clearly communicated such purpose to the public.
21. It is found that in addition to the members of the respondent board, Vastola, his spouse and Bristol's Personnel
Docket #FIC 92-79 Page 4
Director and Assistant Personnel Director were present during the February 11, 1992 executive session.
22. Section 1-21g, G.S., provides:
"At an executive session of a public agency, attendance shall be limited to members of said body and persons invited by said body to present testimony or opinion pertinent to such matters before said body..."
23. The respondents failed to prove that the presence during the course of the February 11, 1992 executive session of any individuals, other than the respondents, was for the purpose of offering opinion or testimony.
24. It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated the provisions of 1-21g, G.S., by allowing persons other than members of the respondent board to remain in attendance during the executive session.
25. The Commission in its discretion, and under the specific facts of this case, declines to impose civil penalties upon the respondents.
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 strictly comply with all of the requirements contained in 1-18a(e)(1), 1-21(a) and 1-21g, G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 24, 1993.
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 92-79 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:
The Bristol Press
P.O. Box 2158
99 Main Street
Bristol, CT 06011-2158
William T. Stortz, William Tracey, George Carpenter J. Harwood Norton, Aaron Silver, Robert Chmieleski, Ercole Labadia and Bristol Board of Police Commissioners
c/o Atty. Richard E. Lacey
Corporation Counsel's Office
111 North Main Street
Bristol, CT 06010
Debra L. Rembowski
Acting Clerk of the Commission