FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision
Gregory M. Conte,
against Docket #FIC 95-83
Monroe Town Council
Respondent December 27, 1995
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on October 18, 1995, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The matter was consolidated for purposes of hearing with Gregory M. Conte v. Monroe Town Council, Docket #FIC 95-94.
1. The respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.
2. By letter of complaint dated March 17, 1995 and filed with the Commission on March 28, 1995, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act with respect to an emergency meeting held on March 7, 1995 (hereinafter "March 7 meeting") by:
a. failing to include in the notice of the March 7 meeting that an executive session would be held;
b. failing to adequately disclose in its March 7, 1995 meeting minutes the purpose and necessity for discussing the Whitney Farms Golf Course contract (hereinafter "contract") in executive session;
c. failing to disclose in its March 7 minutes the nature of the emergency;
d. discussing and/or voting on the contract and the preparation, printing and distribution of an informational brochure which items were not included in the March 7 meeting notice thereby transacting business on two items not previously noticed.
Docket #FIC 95-83 Page 2
3. Section 1-21, G.S., provides in relevant part:
Notice of each special meeting of every public agency ... shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of such meeting by filing a notice of the time and place thereof ... in the office of the clerk of such subdivision for any public agency of a political subdivision of the state..... The secretary or clerk shall cause any notice received under this section to be posted in his office. Such notice shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of the special meeting; provided, in case of emergency ... any such special meeting may be held without complying with the foregoing requirement for the filing of notice but a copy of the minutes of every such emergency special meeting adequately setting forth the nature of the emergency and the proceedings occurring at such meeting shall be filed with ... the clerk of such political subdivision not later than seventy-two hours following the holding of such meeting. The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting snd the business to be transacted. No other business shall be considered at such meetings by such public agency....
A public agency may hold an executive session as defined in subsection (e) of section 1-18a, upon an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of such body present and voting, taken at a public meeting and stating the reasons for such executive session, as defined in said section. [Emphases added].
4. Section 1-18a(e), G.S., provides in relevant part:
"Executive sessions" means a meeting of a public agency at which the public is excluded for one or more of the following purposes:... (4) discussion of the ... purchase of real estate by a political subdivision of the state when publicity regarding such ... purchase ... would cause a likelihood of increased price until such time as all of the property has been acquired or all proceedings or transactions concerning same have been terminated or abandoned.
Docket #FIC 95-83 Page 3
5. It is found that the respondent scheduled a special meeting for March 6, 1995, which meeting notice was dated February 25, 1995, filed with the town clerk on February 27, 1995, and indicated "the purpose of the meeting is to vote on a resolution regarding a town meeting for the appropriations for, and the purchase of, the Whitney Farms Golf Course (hereinafter "golf course").
6. It is found that the respondent by an amended notice dated February 25, 1995 again issued notice of the March 6, 1995 special meeting, which amended notice indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to vote on i) a resolution regarding a town meeting for the appropriations for, and the purchase of, the golf course, the office building and building lot; ii) the contract for the purchase of the project; and iii) the preparation, printing and distribution of an informational brochure relative to the acqusition of the project.
7. It is found that the scheduled March 6, 1995 special meeting, described in paragraph 6, above, was cancelled because the seller of the golf course had not yet signed the proposed contract.
8. It is found that the golf course contract was signed by the seller on the morning of March 7, 1995.
9. It is found that the respondent on the morning of March 7, 1995, filed with the town clerk a notice of an 8:00pm March 7, 1995 emergency meeting, which notice indicates one purpose for the meeting, that purpose being the same as described in paragraph 5, above.
10. It is found that the respondent held the March 7 emergency meeting and that such meeting was convened at the suggestion of the Selectman, Kenneth Heitzke, who believed the meeting was necessary in order to adhere to a time-line sequence of events he had created in connection with the golf course purchase.
11. It is found however, that there was no compelling necessity to justify an emergency meeting on March 7, 1995; that the meeting could have and should have been delayed and held with at least twenty four hours notice to the public; that providing the public with at least twenty four hours notice would not have jeopardized the town's attempt to acquire the golf course; that in light of the significant sum of money involved in the acquisition of the golf course, in excess of $6.6 million dollars, the maximum public participation in the process was desirable; that neither the desire to notice a March 14, 1995 town meeting by March 8, 1995, so that the newspaper would publish such notice, nor the inconvenience in obtaining a quorum constitute emergencies within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S.
Docket #FIC 95-83 Page 4
12. With respect to the allegations as described in paragraphs 2a. and 2d., and in light of finding 11, above, it is found that the respondent failed to give at least twenty four hours notice to the public prior to convening the March 7 meeting; that the respondent could have at minimum convened a special meeting thereby giving at least twenty four hours notice to the public; that such a special meeting notice should have specified that the three items of business, described in paragraph 6, above, would be transacted, in addition to any intended executive session and the allowed purpose for such executive session.
13. It is also found that the respondent discussed and voted on the golf course contract and the informational brochure issues when the public was not provided with notice that business would be transacted on these matters.
14. With respect to the allegation as described in paragraph 2b., above, it is found that the respondent failed to adequately indicate the purpose of the executive session as such purposes are defined at 1-18a(e), G.S. However, it is found that the discussion in executive session of the pending golf course contract did not in itself violate 1-18a(e)(4), G.S.
15. With respect to the allegations as described in paragraph 2c., above, it is found that the respondent's minutes failed to indicate the nature of the emergency requiring an emergency meeting on March 7. Further, the proceedings as indicated in the March 7 minutes do not constitute emergencies within the meaning of 1-21(a), G.S.
16. It is therefore concluded that the respondent violated 1-21, G.S., when it convened an emergency meeting on March 7, 1995, failed to provide the public with at least twenty four hours notice prior to having such meeting, failed to indicate in its notice of such meeting the three items of business described in paragraph 6, above, discussed and voted on the contract and informational brochure issues and failed to adequately indicate in its minutes the purpose for the executive session.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The respondent shall henceforth strictly comply wth the provisions of 1-18a(e) and 1-21, G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of December 27, 1995.
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
Docket #FIC 95-83 Page 5
THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:
Gregory M. Conte
136 Wheeler Road
Monroe, CT 06468
Monroe Town Council
c/o James White, Jr., Esq.
850 Main Street
Bridgeport, CT 06601
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission