FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Joe Wojtas and the Day Publishing Company, Inc.,  

Complainants

 

against

Docket #FIC 1996-162

Corrine Kelley, Chairman, Board of Education, Town of Stonington; Amanda Lindberg, Martha Booker, Roger Panciera, Gisela Harman and Richard C. Palmer, as Members of the Board of Education, Town of Stonington; and Board of Education, Town of Stonington,  

Respondents

May 14, 1997

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on October 30, 1996, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The case caption has been amended to identify the individual respondents as members of the respondent board.

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 dated May 16, 1996, and filed with the Commission on May 17, 1996, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that: (a) the respondent board failed and refused to post notice of the meetings of its school-based improvement teams ("SBITs") held between May 6 and May 8, 1996; and (b) on its May 9, 1996 meeting agenda the respondent board failed to identify with any specificity the subject matter or reason for the executive session convened at that meeting. The complainants requested that the Commission impose a civil penalty against each of the individual respondents.

3. The complainants contend that the SBITs are public agencies and as such their meetings are subject to the open meetings provisions of Connecticut’s Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act.

4. The respondents contend that the SBITs are not public agencies, but site based administrative committees of each school principal, whose meetings are not subject to the provisions of the FOI Act by virtue of 1-18a(b), G.S., which, in relevant part provides that a meeting shall not include "an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency."

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….

6. It is found that the respondent board had approved the concept for SBITs for implementation by each of the district’s school principals.

7. It is also found that each SBIT is comprised of at least one member of the respondent board and volunteers who include: the principal of the school, teachers, parents, residents and occasionally students.

8. It is further found that each SBIT works collaboratively with the principal of the school where it is based, but also makes recommendations to the respondent board on issues concerning the budget, curriculum, planning, and other day to day matters.

9. It is therefore found that the SBITs are committees "created by" the respondent board and accordingly are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

10. It is also found that the respondents failed to prove that the meetings of the SBITs constitute administrative or staff meetings of the school principals, within the meaning of 1-18a(b), G.S., and consequently it is concluded that the meetings of the SBITs are subject to the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act.

11. It is further found, however, that the complainants failed to allege or prove that any SBIT violated the FOI Act by not posting notices of its meetings within the time period alleged in the complainants’ May 16, 1996 letter of complaint to the Commission.

12. In addition, it is found that on May 9, 1996, the respondent board held a meeting during which an executive session was convened.

13. The respondent board concedes that it has not always identified the subject matter of its executive sessions with sufficient specificity in its meeting agendas, and that as a result of the complaint in this case, it has begun to describe in more detail each of the items listed on its meeting agendas.

14. It is found that although there is no requirement that executive sessions be listed as items on an agency’s agenda because it cannot be known until after the required votes held in accordance with 1-21(a), G.S., whether such matters will, in fact, be held in executive session, all matters on an agency’s agenda must be sufficiently specific as to fairly apprise the public of the matters to be considered at the meeting in question.

15. Consequently, it is concluded that the respondent board violated 1-21(a), G.S., with respect to the agenda for its May 9, 1996 meeting.

16. The Commission, however, declines to impose civil penalties 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 board shall ensure that all items on the agendas of its meetings are sufficiently specific as to fairly apprise the public of the matters to be considered at the meetings to which the agendas refer.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 14, 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:

Joe Wojtas and the Day Publishing Company, Inc.
New London, CT 06320-1231

Corrine Kelley, Chairman, Board of Education, Town of Stonington; Amanda Lindberg, Martha Booker, Roger Panciera, Gisela Harman and Richard C. Palmer, as Members of the Board of Education, Town of Stonington; and Board of Education, Town of Stonington Board of Education, Town of Stonington
PO Box 479
Old Mystic, CT 06372

Gisela Harman
3 River Street
Pawcatuck, CT 06379

Martha Booker
One Jeremy Hill Road
Stonington, CT 06378

Corrine Kelley
525 North Stonington Road
Stonington, CT 06378

Amanda Lindberg
560 Main Street
Stonington, CT 06378

Roger Panciera
84 Masons Island Road
Mystic, CT 06355

Richard C. Palmer
PO Box 126
Mystic, CT 06355

__________________________
Elizabeth A. Leifert
Acting Clerk of the Commission

FIC1996-162/FD/eal/05161997