FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
William Campbell, Beth Lazar, Bonnie Blanding, Joshua Nessen,
Brian Hariskevich, Alma Maya, Willie Matos, and William Garrett,
against Docket #FIC 95-62
Bridgeport Town Clerk,
Respondent April 18, 1995
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 24, 1995, at which time the complainants 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 March 16, 1995, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging that they had been denied the right to inspect and copy certain public records.
3. It is found that the City of Bridgeport Court of Common Council has authorized a poll or "referendum" on the legalization of casino gambling in the city, to be held on March 28, 1995.
4. It is found that the poll or "referendum" is to be conducted by city employees, using city resources and at city polling places, although much or all of the cost is promised to be reimbursed by the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.
5. It is found that the poll or "referendum" is to be conducted in the same manner as any other city-wide vote, including the use of absentee ballots.
6. It is found that the complainants sought to inspect or copy information contained on the absentee ballot applications on March 14, 1995.
7. It is found that the respondent is responsible for conducting all city-wide elections and referenda, and is the custodian of the absentee ballot applications.
8. It is found that the absentee ballot applications are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
Docket #FIC 95-62 Page 2
9. It is found that the staff of the respondent denied the complainants' request to copy the absentee ballot applications.
10. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:
Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any 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 or to receive a copy of such records in accordance with the provisions of section 1-15.
11. It is found that the respondent failed to prove that the complainants were either requested to, or refused to, put their request in writing.
12. It is also found that the complainants offered to pay the cost of copies.
13. It is found that the respondent's asserted basis for the denial was that the poll or "referendum" was private and not public.
14. It is found, however, that whether the poll or "referendum" is public or private, the absentee ballot applications themselves--secured through the respondent's office and maintained by the respondent in connection with a "referendum" or poll authorized by the city court of common council--are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(d) and 1-19(a), G.S.
15. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-19(a), G.S., by failing to make copies of public records promptly upon request.
16. It is found that, although the complainants' request to copy the applications was denied, they were permitted to inspect the absentee ballot applications for approximately an hour.
17. It is found that the respondent then refused the complainants further access that day to the absentee ballot applications, by removing the records from the tables at which the complainants were working.
18. The respondent maintains that he permissibly restricted the complainants' rights of access because the complainants were interfering with the work of title searchers by taking up too much space at a limited number of tables; and because they were disturbing his staff by asking questions and raising issues about the propriety of the poll or "referendum."
19. It is found, however, that the complainants were not making any significant disturbance.
Docket #FIC 95-62 Page 3
20. It is also found that the respondent failed to prove that both the title searchers and the complainants could not both be reasonably accommodated (as occurred during any city-wide election), short of entirely prohibiting further access by the complainants.
21. It is therefore concluded that the respondent also violated 1-19(a), G.S., by denying prompt access to inspect public records.
22. The respondent maintains that there was no denial of either the rights to inspect or copy, because he offered to make the records available for inspection the following day, and because he was not personally asked for copies.
23. It is concluded, however, that the respondent's denial of access on March 14 was not reasonable, and that that denial was not cured by his subsequent offer.
24. It is also concluded that the respondent, as custodian of the records at issue, is responsible for denials of copies issued by his staff.
25. The respondent also maintains that an order of disclosure in this case is not warranted, because a lawsuit is now pending in superior court in which the requested records may be the subject of discovery.
26. Section 1-19b(b)(1), G.S., provides in relevant part that nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be deemed to "limit the rights of litigants, including parties to administrative proceedings, under the laws of discovery of this state."
27. It is found that the pending lawsuit was filed after the request in this case; and further, that no discovery requests or orders are now pending.
28. It is concluded that an order of disclosure in this case would not limit the rights of litigants in the pending lawsuit.
29. The complainants, in their request for relief, seek an order that the respondent's office remain open on the weekend of March 26-27, so that the complainants may inspect the absentee ballot applications before the scheduled "referendum" or poll on March 28.
30. It is found, however, that the respondent offered to make the requested records available for inspection by a limited number of the complainants on the day following his denial, and that the complainants found that offer inadequate and declined to accept it.
Docket #FIC 95-62 Page 4
31. It is therefore found that the remedy requested by the complainants would not be appropriate in this case.
32. In their request for relief, the complainants also seek an order establishing the guidelines by which they may inspect the absentee ballots, such as the number of people who may inspect the ballots at the same time.
33. It is concluded, however, that the precise guidelines for inspecting the requested records depend on the facts and circumstances at the time of the request, and that such a prospective order is not warranted in this case.
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 1-19(a), G.S. The respondent is cautioned that failure to do so in the future may result in the imposition of civil penalties of up to $1,000 pursuant to 1-21(i), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of April 18, 1995.
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 95-62 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:
WILLIAM CAMPBELL, BETH LAZAR, BONNIE BLANDING, JOSHUA NESSEN, BRIAN HARISKEVICH, ALMA MAYA, WILLIE MATOS AND WILLIAM GARRETT,
c/o Joshua Nessen
Greater Bridgeport Interfaith Action, Inc.
1475 Noble Avenue
Bridgeport, CT 06610
BRIDGEPORT TOWN CLERK
c/o John D. Guman, Jr., Esq.
Deputy City Attorney
202 State Street
Bridgeport, CT 06604-4807
Debra L. Rembowski
Clerk of the Commission