FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Rita A. Niro and The Hartford Courant,
against Docket #FIC 94-49
Farmington Town Manager,
Respondent January 11, 1995
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 24, 1994, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared 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 17, 1994, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent failed to promptly provide copies of certain records.
3. It is found that the complainant Niro visited the respondent's office on Thursday, February 17, 1994.
4. It is found that the respondent had prepared packets of documents to be distributed to the members of the town council, the press, and certain other individuals and agencies.
5. It is found that the packets consisted of the agenda for the town council's Tuesday February 22, 1994 meeting, together with background information for the meeting, including minutes, legal notices, motions, bills for services, letters, proposals, reports, proposed regulations, council goals and resolutions, and economic plans.
6. It is concluded that the documents in the packets are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
7. It is found that the respondent declined to provide the package of records to Niro at the time she requested them.
8. The respondent maintains that it is his policy, as directed by the town council, that the packets are to be
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delivered to the council members on Thursday, and not distributed to the public or the press until Friday.
9. The respondent also maintains that 1-21(a), G.S., does not require the agenda of a regular meeting to be filed until 24 hours before the meeting, and that access on the Friday before a Tuesday meeting is therefore well within the requirements of 1-21(a), G.S.
10. At the request of the respondent, the Commission takes administrative notice of its record and final decision in docket #FIC 92-363, Alphonse Avitable and Democratic Town Committee vs. Bethlehem Board of Selectmen, which case concerns when an agenda must be filed pursuant to 1-21, G.S.
11. The respondent also maintains that he has four business days to respond to the complainants' request, pursuant to 1-21i(b), G.S.
12. The complainant in turn maintains that she was not asking the respondent for anything burdensome, that the documents she was asking for were already copied, and that she should have the same prompt access as the council members.
13. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides that "every person shall have the right to inspect [public] records promptly during regular office or business hours or to receive a copy of such records in accordance with the provisions of section 1-15."
14. Section 1-15(a), G.S, provides that "[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record."
15. Section 1-21(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:
The agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency, except for the general assembly, shall be available to the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before the meetings to which they refer, in such agency's regular office or place of business
16. Section 1-21i(b), G.S., provides in relevant part:
Any denial of the right to inspect or copy records provided for under section 1-19 shall be made to the person requesting such right by the public agency official who has custody or control of the public record, in writing, within four business days of such request .... Failure to comply with a request to so inspect or copy such public record within the
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applicable number of business days shall be deemed to be a denial.
17. It is concluded that the time constraints for providing copies of public records are established by 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S., and not by the agenda filing requirements of 1-21(a) or the statutory denial period established in 1-21i(b), G.S.
18. It is also concluded that the word "promptly," as used in 1-15(a) and 1-19(a) means quickly and without undue delay, taking into consideration all of the factors presented by a particular request.
19. It is found that the meeting packets are all prepared on the Thursday the week before the meeting, and that the press packages are prepared at the same time as the council members' packages.
20. It is found that the packets had been copied when the complainant requested one.
21. It is found that the respondent arranges for the packets for the council members to be hand delivered to the Farmington Police Department, and then delivered by department cruisers to the individual council members.
22. It is found that the respondent arranges for such prompt service to the council members because they need time to read the materials before the Tuesday evening meeting.
23. It is found that the town council directed the respondent not to provide packets to the press or the public until the Friday before the meeting.
24. It is found that the complainant needs sufficient time to read the packet and follow up on any information contained in it, so as to decide whether to write a story that will be published before the meeting.
25. It is found that, given the efficiency, speed and effort that the respondent devotes to delivering the packets to council members, the respondent also reasonably understands or should understand that the complainant has a similar need for time to review the packets.
26. It is found that the respondent's staff is able to continue with its ordinary daily business functions on the day that it is copying and preparing the packets.
27. It is found that the respondent made no claim that the requested packet is exempt from disclosure.
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28. It is also found that the respondent offered no practical obstacle to having met the complainant's February 17, 1994 request, other than the policy that the town council members are to receive the packet first.
29. It is concluded that nothing in the Freedom of Information Act conditions the public's right of access to public records upon their first being distributed to any public officials.
30. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to provide copies of public records promptly upon request.
31. Although the issue of civil penalties was not raised in this case, the Commission on its motion takes administrative notice of its record and final decision in docket #FIC 93-306, John R. Pandora v. Farmington Town Manager, in which the respondent was previously found to have violated 1-15 and 1-19(a) by failing to promptly provide a complainant with a copy of a requested document, and ordered to strictly comply with the disclosure provisions of those statutes. The Commission advises the respondent that continued violations of the same statutory provisions expose the respondent to the risk of civil penalties of as much as $1,000.00.
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 requirements of 1-15(a) and 1-19(a), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 11, 1995.
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:
RITA A. NIRO AND THE HARTFORD COURANT
285 Broad Street
Hartford, CT 06115
FARMINGTON TOWN MANAGER
c/o Louise M. Goodwin, Esq.
Day, Berry & Howard
Hartford, CT 06103-3499
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission