FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Thane Grauel and the Westport Minuteman,  

Complainants

 

against

Docket #FIC 1996-127

Joseph Arcudi, First Selectman, Town of Westport; Andrew Fink, Town Attorney, Town of Westport; and Louis Gagliano, John Booth, Roy Fuchs, Paula Leonard, Linda Merk-Gould, Catherine Onyemelukwe, Martha Press, Joan Irvine, Scott Spitzer, J. Donald Warren, Jr., and Dorothy Williams as Members of the Long Range Planning Task Force; Long Range Planning Task Force, Town of Westport; and Town of Westport,  

Respondents

March 12, 1997

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on October 8, 1996, at which time the complainants and respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts, and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaints. The case caption has been amended to correctly identify the respondents in this case.

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

1. The respondents first selectman and town attorney are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

2. By letter of complaint dated and filed with the Commission on April 16, 1996, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that on or about March 18, 1996 they learned that the respondent Long Range Planning Task Force ("task force"): (a) held secret or unnoticed meetings on March 3, 1996 and March 11, 1996 ("March meetings"), and at other times; and (b) failed to record and file minutes and a record of votes for all meetings held, including its March meetings. The complainants also requested the imposition of civil penalties against the individual respondents, and that the Commission declare all actions taken at the task force’s unnoticed meetings null and void.

3. The respondents contend that the task force is not a public agency and therefore its meetings are not subject to the provisions of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act, specifically the open meetings provisions of 1-21, G.S.

4. The complainants contend that the task force was created by the respondent first selectman and is a public agency and that its meetings are subject to the open meeting provisions of the FOI Act, specifically the open meetings provisions of 1-21(a), G.S.

5. Section 1-18a(a), G.S., defines public agency, in relevant part, as:

any executive, administrative or legislative office of the state or any political subdivision of the state and any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state or of any city, town, borough, municipal corporation, school district, regional district or other district or other political subdivision of the state, including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official …. (Emphasis added.)

6. It is found that the task force was created by the respondent first selectman at the suggestion of respondent Gagliano who chaired the task force.

7. It is found that the eleven task force members named and approved by the respondent first selectman included eight members who were also members of other public agencies in town.

8. It is found that the purpose of the task force was to assess the long range tax and fiscal impact of certain capital projects under consideration by the town and the town’s board of education.

9. It is concluded that the respondent task force is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

10. It is found that the respondent task force convened March meetings for which no notices of meeting or agendas were filed, and no minutes or records of votes were prepared and filed.

11. Section 1-21(a), G.S., states that:

[t]he meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions as defined in subsection (e) of section 1-18a, shall be open to the public….

12. In relevant part, 1-18a(b), G.S., states that:

"[m]eeting" 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. "Meeting" shall not include: … an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency .…

13. It is found that the respondent task force prepared a report concerning the completeness, accuracy and priorities of the town’s five year capital project plan which was submitted to the respondent first selectman’s office.

14. It is found that following the issuance of its report wherein funds were requested from the town to commission a survey to validate the task force’s conclusions and document public reaction to tax rates and capital projects over a ten year span, funding for such a survey was approved by the town.

15. It is found that the respondent task force had advisory power concerning the tax and fiscal impact of the town’s five year capital projects plan, within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

16. Therefore, it is concluded that the meetings of the respondent task force to discuss or act upon matters over which it had advisory power were subject to the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act, and in fact several task force meetings were open to the public.

17. It is concluded that the respondent task force violated the provisions of 1-21(a), G.S., by failing to: file notices of, and agendas for its unnoticed meetings; and by failing to maintain and file minutes and a record of any votes taken at its March meetings.

18. It is found that the task force has been disbanded and while in existence it took no action.

19. Given the finding in paragraph 18, above, there is no basis for the imposition of a null an void order by the Commission as requested by the complainants.

20. In its discretion the Commission declines to issue a civil penalty 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 task force shall strictly comply with the open meeting requirements of 1-21(a), G.S.

2. The complaint is hereby dismissed with respect to the respondents first selectman, town attorney, and town.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of March 12, 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:

Thane Grauel and the Westport Minuteman
c/o Alan Neigher, Esq.
Byelas & Neigher
1804 Post Road East
Westport, CT 06880

Joseph Arcudi, First Selectman, Town of Westport; Andrew Fink, Town Attorney, Town of Westport; and Louis Gagliano, John Booth, Roy Fuchs, Paula Leonard, Linda Merk-Gould, Catherine Onyemelukwe, Martha Press, Joan Irvine, Scott Spitzer, J. Donald Warren, Jr., and Dorothy Williams, as Members of the Long Range Planning Task Force; Long Range Planing Task Force, Town of Westport; and Town of Westport
c/o Andrew F. Fink, Esq.
257 Riverside Avenue
Westport, CT 06880

__________________________
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1996-127/FD/eal/03201997