FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Mark S. Allaben,  

Complainant

 

against

Docket #FIC 1996-248

John A. Elsesser, Town Manager, Town of Coventry; Joan Lewis, Chairman, Town Council, Town of Coventry; Michael Malinowski, Superintendent of Schools, Coventry Public Schools; and Linda A. Scussel, Chairman, Board of Education, Coventry Public Schools,  

Respondents

February 26, 1997

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on November 13, 1996, 1996, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. Contested case docket #FIC 1996-214, Matthew D. O’Brien against Chairman, Town Council, Town of Coventry; Town Manager, Town of Coventry; Chairman, Board of Education, Town of Coventry and Business Manager, Coventry Public Schools, was consolidated with the above-captioned case for purposes of hearing.

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 dated June 12, 1996 and filed on June 13, 1996, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the provisions of the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act by conducting an unnoticed meeting on May 29, 1996 for which no minutes were kept.

3. It is found that in anticipation of a meeting between the town council and board of education to be held in June, 1996, the chairperson of the town council ("chairperson") sought the advice of the board of education business manager ("business manager") concerning the statutory legal requirements for procedure to be followed in school construction grant projects in the state of Connecticut.

4. It is found that on her own initiative, the chairperson contacted the business manager to inquire whether he and the town manager could outline the process identified in paragraph 3, above, ("procedure") for her benefit.

5. It is found that the business manager agreed to outline the procedure contained in the School Construction Grants Manual, whereupon he contacted the town manager and also invited the chairperson of the board of education and the superintendent of schools to join them for this informational session to be held on May 29, 1996.

6. It is found that during the approximately 45 minute session on May 29, 1996, during which time the superintendent appeared only briefly, the respondents reviewed the statutory process generally but did not discuss any specifics about the Coventry school project.

7. Section 1-21(a), G.S., provides that the meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, shall be open to the public.

8. The respondents maintain that the May 29, 1996 gathering was not a "meeting" because it was not a hearing or proceeding within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

9. Section 1-18a(b), G.S., provides, in pertinent part:

‘Meeting’ means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency,any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, and any communication by or to a quorum of a multimember public agency, whether in person or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power….

10. It is found that although the gathering described in paragraphs 5 and 6, above, was attended by a number of public officials, those present did not constitute a quorum of any identifiable multimember public agency.

11. It is further found that the May 29, 1996 tutorial session was neither a hearing nor a proceeding of the respondents or of any of the agencies to which any of the participants belong, within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.; and it is therefore concluded that it was not a "meeting" for purposes of the FOI Act.

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

1. The complaint is hereby dismissed.

2. The Commission encourages the respondents to include as broad a range of individuals as possible as invitees to any such gatherings as described in the findings, above, whenever possible in the spirit of open government even when not technically required to do so under the provisions of the FOI Act, as such actions may alleviate the concerns of those not otherwise in attendance.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 26, 1997.

__________________________
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission

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:

Mark S. Allaben
258 Nathan Hale Road
Coventry, CT 06238

John A. Elsesser, Town Manager, Town of Coventry; Joan Lewis, Chairman, Town Council, Town of Coventry; Michael Malinowski, Superintendent of Schools, Coventry Public Schools; and Linda A. Scussel, Chairman, Board of Education, Coventry Public Schools
c/o Patrick J. McHale, Esq.
Shipman & Goodwin
One American Row
Hartford, CT 06103-2819

__________________________
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1996-248/FD/eal/03071997