FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Lawrence G. Stankus and Haddam Taxpayer's Association, Inc.,
against Docket #FIC 95-126
Charles F. Sweetman, Jr.,
Superintendent, Regional School
District No. 17; Robert A. Norton,
Jr., Chairman, Regional School
District No. 17 Board of Education;
and Gary J. Shettle, Director of
Finance and Operations, Regional
School District No. 17,
Respondents August 23, 1995
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 22, 1995, 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. By letter of complaint filed April 18, 1995, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents failed to comply with the Commission's order in docket #FIC 94-59, Lawrence G. Stankus and Haddam Taxpayer's Association, Inc., against Charles F. Sweetman, Superintendent, Regional School District No. 17; Robert A. Norton, Jr., Chairman, Regional School District No. 17 Board of Education; and Gary J. Shettle, Director of Finance and Operations, Regional School District No 17, and requesting the imposition of the maximum civil penalty.
3. On its own motion, the Commission takes administrative notice of its record and final decision in docket #FIC 94-59, Stankus et al. against Sweetman, Norton and Shettle, including the minutes of the Commission's February 22, 1995 meeting, at which the Commission approved its final decision in that case.
4. It is found that the Commission in docket #FIC 94-59 ordered the respondents on February 23, 1995 to "forthwith provide to the complainants the requested trial balances."
Docket #FIC 95-126 Page 2
5. It is found that the respondents requested no stay of the Commission's decision.
6. It is found that the complainants in docket #FIC 94-59 had requested trial balances of regional school district No. 17 as of June 30, 1993 and as of December 31, 1993.
7. It is found that the complainants received on April 25, 1995--after they had filed the complaint in this matter--a copy of what purports to be the requested trial balances.
8. The respondent Shettle maintains that he began to prepare the requested trial balances after he received the Commission's Transmittal of Proposed Findings in docket #FIC 94-59, and finished around February 22, 1995.
9. The respondents further maintain that the requested trial balances were available to the complainants at the respondents offices from February 22, 1995 on, and that the complainant simply needed to come in and get them.
10. It is found, however, that the trial balances ultimately provided to the complainants were not actually printed out from the computer from which they were generated until April 24, 1995.
11. It is therefore found that no hard copy of the requested trial balances, as ordered to be provided by the Commission, was in fact physically available to the complainants until April 24, 1995.
12. It is additionally found that the respondents made no efforts before April 25, 1995 either to inform the complainants that the copies could then be made for them, or to deliver the copies to them.
13. The respondents however maintain that they were not certain that the word "provide" in the Commission's order meant that they actually had to mail or otherwise deliver the records to the complainant, and that they thought that the complainants had to come into their offices to get the records.
14. In support of their argument, the respondents ask the Commission to take administrative notice of the defintion of the word "provide."
15. Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1988) gives four definitions of the transitive verb "provide," the first of which is "to furnish, supply."
16. The American Heritage Dictionary Second College Edition (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985) gives the same four definitions in the same order.
Docket #FIC 95-126 Page 3
17. The respondents, however, maintain that they were relying on the second and third definitions of the word "provide," which both dictionaries cited above give as "to make ready" and "to make available."
18. However, the Commission finds the respondents' argument, which simply ignores the primary common meaning of the word "provide," to be, at best, disingenuous.
19. It is found that the respondents made no inquiries of this Commission as to the meaning of the Commission's order in docket #FIC 94-59.
20. Rather, it is found that the respondents simply attempted to do the absolute minimum to arguably comply with the Commission's order, neither printing a copy of the requested records, nor informing the complainants that such a copy could be made for them.
21. The Commission also finds that the respondents have, by their actions in purported compliance with the Commission's order, attempted to place the responsibility for compliance with the Commission's order on the complainants, when that order was clearly and unequivocally directed at the respondents.
22. Moreover, the Commission finds not credible the respondents testimony that their failure to provide the records to the complainant was unintentional.
23. Section 1-21i(b)(2), G.S., provides in relevant part:
upon 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 against the custodian or other official a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollars.
24. It is found that the named respondents, who were individually named respondents in docket #FIC 94-59, are the officials directly responsible for the lack of compliance with the Commission's order in docket #FIC 94-59.
25. It is further found that the respondents' failure to comply with the Commission's order was without reasonable grounds.
26. Aside from disputes over the meaning of the Commission's order, it is also found that the grand totals of
Docket #FIC 95-126 Page 4
the trial balance as of December 31, 1993 ultimately provided to the complainants do not agree with the grand totals provided to them on February 3, 1994 for the same period, given in response to their original request in what became docket #FIC 94-59.
27. It is found that both of the grand totals, which should be totals of the same numbers, cannot be accurate.
28. The Commission also notes that it is somewhat at a loss how exactly to direct the respondents to do accurate accounting.
29. However, the Commission additionally notes that the complainants are free to make additional requests for records that might uncover the unexplained discrepancy between the two grand totals.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Each of the named respondents shall forthwith remit to the Commission a civil penalty in the amount of $100.00.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 23, 1995.
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 95-126 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:
Mr. Lawrence G. Stankus
Haddam Taxpayer's Association, Inc.
P.O. Box 28
Higganum, CT 06441
Charles F. Sweetman, Jr., Superintendent, Regional School District No. 17; Robert A. Norton, Jr., Chairman, Regional School District No. 17 Board of Education; and Gary J. Shettle, Director of Finance and Operations, Regional School District
c/o Donald W. Strickland, Esq.
Siegel, O'Connor, Schiff & Zangari, P.C.
370 Asylum Street
Hartford, CT 06103
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission