FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Carol L. Panke,
against Docket #FIC 94-63
Bloomfield Town Manager,
Respondent August 10, 1994
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 7, 1994, 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 of complaint filed February 25, 1994, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that her February 4, 1994 request for certain documents had been denied.
3. It is found that by letter dated February 4, 1994, the complainant requested from the respondent copies of certain records relating to the settlement of certain claims against the town, including (a) any insurance polices covering the settlements, (b) signed settlement documents, and (c) any records approving settlement payments, including account numbers and accounts.
4. It is found that no insurance polices covered the settlements.
5. It is also found that the remaining requested documents are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
6. The respondent maintains that the settlement agreements contain a provision prohibiting any party to the agreements from disclosing their terms.
7. It is concluded, however, that public agencies may not simply contract away the public's right to know under the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act.
8. The respondent also maintains that the parties to the settlement agreements had an expectation of privacy and confidentiality in the agreements.
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9. It is concluded, however, that expectations of privacy and confidentiality, unsupported by any statutory exemption, do not state an exemption to the requirements of the FOI Act.
10. The respondent also maintains that there may be a question of whether the requested records are personnel files within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
11. It is found, however, that the respondent failed to prove that the requested records are personnel files within the meaning of 1-19(b)(2), G.S.
12. It is therefore concluded that the respondent violated 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide copies of the requested records.
13. Section 1-21i(b)(2), G.S., provides in pertinent part:
[U]pon the finding that a denial of any right created by sections 1-15, 1-18a, 1-19 to 1-19b, inclusive, and 1-21 to 1-21k, inclusive, was without reasonable grounds and after the custodian or other official directly responsible for the denial has been given an opportunity to be heard at a hearing conducted in accordance with sections 4-176e to 4-184, inclusive, the commission may, in its discretion, impose a civil penalty against the custodian or other official a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollar.
14. It is concluded that the respondent's violation of 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S., being entirely without statutory justification, was without reasonable grounds within the meaning of 1-21i(b)(2), G.S.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The respondent shall forthwith provide to the complainant, at no cost, copies of the records described in paragraph 3(b) and 3(c) of the findings, above.
2. Henceforth the respondent shall strictly comply with the requirements of 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S.
3. The Commission notes that the respondent's failure to provide records for which it could could claim no statutory exemption from disclosure exposed him to civil penalties of up to $1,000.00 pursuant to 1-21i(b)(2), G.S. Such penalties were not requested by the complainant, and the Commission in its discretion declines to impose them in this case. However, the
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Commission advises the respondent in the future to carefully consider requests for public records--particularly those relating to the expenditure of public funds--within the framework of the FOI Act, which requires disclosure of all records other than those specifically exempted by state statute or federal law.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 10, 1994.
Debra L. Rembowski
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:
CAROL L. PANKE
116 Wintonbury Avenue
Bloomfield, CT 06002
BLOOMFIELD TOWN MANAGER
c/o Eric Coleman, Esq.
101 Oak Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission