FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

FINAL DECISION
Docket #FIC 1996-048
September 10, 1997

In the Matter of a Complaint by Ralph V. Williams, Complainant
against
Brian Malloy; Patricia McGrath; Antonio Conte: Michael D’Elia; Robert Bernardo; and Richard Vacca, as members of the Stamford Golf Authority; and the Stamford Golf Authority, Respondents

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 30, 1997, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

2. By letter dated January 25, 1997, and filed on January 28, 1997, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act by convening, without proper notice, two "secret" and unlawful sessions of the respondent authority, one on January 2, 1997 and another on January 21, 1997. The complainant further alleged that, because the unlawful sessions were held to discuss his employment and dismissal, he was denied "an opportunity…to be heard".

3. The respondents contend that the Commission lacks jurisdiction over the complaint on the ground that a complete complaint, including the mailing address and telephone number of each individual respondent, was not filed with the Commission until March 1997.

4. It is concluded that 1-21j-42(b)(2), Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, which states that complaints must include "(t)he identity of …any public agency official alleged to have denied the complainant a right…", does not require that the mailing address and telephone number of each individual respondent must be provided for a complaint to be deemed timely filed. Accordingly, the Commission has jurisdiction over the allegations presented herein.

5. Section 1-21(a), G.S., states in different pertinent parts:

[n]otice of each special meeting of every public agency…shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of such meeting….

[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….

[t]he agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be available to the public and shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before the meetings to which they refer….(u)pon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting, any subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be considered and acted upon at such meetings.

6. Section 1-18a(e), G.S., states in pertinent part:

"(e)xecutive sessions" means a meeting of a public agency at which the public is excluded for one or more of the following purposes: (1) discussion concerning the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a public officer or employee, provided that such individual may require that discussion be held at an open meeting….

7. It is found that the notice for the meeting of the respondent authority held on January 2, 1997 was filed during the morning of January 2, 1997, less than twenty-four hours before the meeting convened that evening at 7:05 p.m.

8. It is found that the January 2, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority was a special meeting, as reflected in both the notice and the minutes for said meeting, and was not an emergency meeting as contended by the respondents at hearing.

9. It is found that the respondents convened an executive session at the January 21, 1997 regular meeting of the respondent authority, without recording a two-thirds vote or stating the reasons for such executive session in the minutes of the meeting.

10. It is found that the agenda for the January 21, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority did not include an item for the complainant’s personnel matter and that the minutes for said meeting do not reflect a two thirds vote to take up the complainant’s personnel matter as an item not listed on the agenda.

11. It is found that the individual respondents discussed the employment, performance and health of the complainant at the January 2, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority, that the individual respondents discussed the employment, performance, health, and dismissal of the complainant at the January 21, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority, followed by an affirmative vote to dismiss him at said meeting, that subsequently the respondent authority reinstated the complainant at a meeting held on January 28, 1997, and finally, that the respondent authority dismissed the complainant again on March 13, 1997.

12. Based upon the foregoing findings of fact, it is concluded that the respondents violated 1-21(a), G.S., when they held a special meeting on January 2, 1997 without filing a notice at least twenty-four hours before such meeting.

13. It is also concluded that the respondents violated 1-21(a), G.S., again when they convened an executive session at the January 21, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority, without recording a two-thirds vote or stating the reasons for such executive session in the minutes of said meeting.

14. It is further concluded that the respondents violated 1-21(a), G.S., when, at the January 21, 1997 meeting of the respondent authority, they took up the complainant’s personnel matter, which was not listed as an item on the agenda, without a two thirds vote to do so.

15. It is concluded that the respondents’ actions, in violating the notice requirements for the January 2, 1997 meeting, as described at paragraph 7, above, and in convening an executive session at the January 21, 1997 meeting without stating the reasons for such executive session and in order to take up an item not on the agenda, as described at paragraphs 9 and 10, above, both had the effect of causing another violation of the FOI law, the right of an individual to require an open meeting for the discussion of the terms of his public employment. Without proper notice of the consideration of his personnel matter, the complainant was effectively deprived of his 1-18a(e)(1), G.S., right to require "an open meeting" for the discussion of his personnel matter.

16. It is finally concluded that the 1-18a(e)(1), G.S., right to "an open meeting" means the right to observe, not the right "to be heard" that was asserted in the complaint, as described at paragraph 2, above.

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

1. In view of the multiple violations found at paragraphs 12 to 16, above, the action of the respondent authority taken at its meeting on January 21, 1997, dismissing the complainant from his employment, is hereby declared null and void.

2. The Commission notes that the respondent authority came under new leadership at the beginning of 1997. When the violations that are the subject of this case were brought to the attention of the respondents, they took steps to act in compliance with FOI requirements, including reinstating the complainant in his employment on January 28, 1997. The March 13, 1997 dismissal of the complainant from his employment is not subject to or effected by these FOI orders.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 10, 1997.

__________________________
Doris V. Luetjen
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:
Ralph V. Williams
c/o Ridgely W. Brown
25 Brookside Road
P.O. Box 1205
Darien, CT 06820-1205

Brian Malloy; Patricia McGrath; Antonio Conte; Michael D’Elia; Robert Bernardo; and Richard Vacca, as members of The Stamford Golf Authority; and The Stamford Golf Authority
c/o Randolph T. Lovallo
Curtis, Brinckerhoff & Barrett, P.C.
666 Summer Street
Stamford, CT 06901-1416

__________________________
Doris V. Luetjen
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1997-048/tcg/09101997