FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Martin J. Lawlor, Jr.; Susanne Bitterman; and Daryl Landers,  

Complainants

 

against

Docket #FIC 1996-273

Board of Selectmen, Town of Bethel,  

Respondent

March 12, 1997

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on December 2, 1996, 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 dated and filed with the Commission on July 2, 1996, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act by conducting an unnoticed meeting for which no minutes were filed.

3. It is found that on June 6, 1996, a quorum consisting of two of the three members of the respondent met with the business manager for the Bethel Board of Education, the chairman of the permanent building committee, a member of the Bethel Board of Education, the building and maintenance supervisor of the town of Bethel, and a representative of the Landis & Gyr Company and a consultant for the Board of Education (hereinafter "June gathering").

4. Section 1-18a(b), G.S., in relevant part provides: "’Meeting’" means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency … to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power…."

5. Section 1-21(a), G.S., in relevant part provides: "The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions … shall be open to the public…. [M]inutes shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer…."

6. It is found that the gathering identified in paragraph 3, above, was not publicly noticed with the town clerk nor were minutes of the meeting made available to the public.

7. The respondent contends that the June gathering was not a meeting within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., because the respondent has no jurisdiction, supervision, control or advisory power over the matter under discussion at the June gathering.

8. It is found that at the time of the June gathering, the town of Bethel found itself in an emergency situation with respect to the middle school’s heating system and that teachers and parents of students were insistent that the situation was intolerable.

9. It is found that the June gathering was for the purpose of updating the board of education on the progress of the middle school heating problem and the status of repairs to the system, and that the gathering was conducted by Selectman Thiele.

10. It is found that the town of Bethel had entered a contract with the firm of Landis & Gyr for services concerning the heating and cooling system in the Bethel Middle School, and specifically the energy management system including valve control, air handling units and other items built into the hearing system.

11. The respondent claims that the discussion of the Bethel Middle School’s heating system that took place during the June gathering concerned a separate maintenance contract that had been entered into by the board of education with Midland Building Services, Inc., and not the energy management system identified in paragraph 10, above.

12. The respondent claims that it has no supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power over the board of education’s maintenance contract that was under discussion at the June gathering.

13. Although the maintenance of school buildings is under the authority of the board of education, it is found that maintenance and energy management issues were sufficiently related to the town’s trouble-shooting and handling of the emergency situation so as to vest at least advisory power concerning the matter with the respondent.

14. It is therefore concluded that the June gathering constituted a meeting of the respondent within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

15. In the alternative, the respondent claims that the June gathering was an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency due to the fact that the first selectman had delegated his responsibilities with respect to the heating system to Selectman Thiele.

16. It is found that the respondent failed to prove either that the attendees identified in paragraph 3, above, were staff members of the first selectman within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., or that the second selectman was acting as a single member public agency under the facts of this case.

17. It is concluded that the June gathering was not a staff meeting of a single-member public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S.

18. It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-21(a), G.S., by failing to properly notice the June gathering and to make minutes available to the public within seven days thereof.

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

1. The respondent shall forthwith prepare minutes of the meeting, more fully described in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the findings, above, in accordance with the minutes provisions of 1-21(a), G.S.

2. Henceforth, the respondent shall strictly comply with the open meetings, public notice and minutes provisions of 1-21(a), G.S.

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:

Martin J. Lawlor, Jr.; Susanne Bitterman; and Daryl Landers
c/o Stephen C. Gallagher, Esq.
Gallagher & Gallagher
30 Main Street, Suite 201
Danbury, CT 06810

Board of Selectmen, Town of Bethel
c/o Daniel W. O’Grady, Esq.
PO Box 135
Bethel, CT 06801

__________________________
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1996-273/FD/eal/03201997