FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Petition by

FINAL DECISION

by the Town of Greenwich for 
Exemption of Proposed

Human Rights Committee

 

 

Complainants

 

 

against

 

Docket #FIC 1997-028

Town Attorney, Town of Greenwich,

 

 Petitioner

February 25, 1998

FINAL DECISION

In the Matter of a Petition by  Petitioner

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on October 7, 1997, at which time the petitioner and the Greenwich Time appeared. The petitioner presented testimony, exhibits and argument in support of the petition. The Greenwich Time was granted intervenor status in these proceedings and presented argument in objection.

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

        1. By petition dated September 9, 1996 and filed on September 10, 1996, the petitioner requested that the Commission exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act a proposed Human Rights Committee of the Town of Greenwich ("proposed committee"). The petition was filed pursuant to 1-20e, G.S.

        2. Section 1-20e, G.S., provides:

Any public agency may petition the freedom of information commission before establishing a committee of the public agency which is to be composed entirely of individuals who are not members of the agency, to determine whether such committee may be exempted from the application of any provision of the freedom of information act. If the commission, in its judgment, finds by reliable, probative and substantial evidence that the public interest in exempting the committee from the application of any such provision clearly outweighs the public interest in applying the provision to the committee, the commission shall issue an order, on appropriate terms, exempting the committee from the application of the provision.

        3. It is found that the petitioner, in accordance with the Commission’s September 10, 1997 Notice of Hearing and Order To Show, issued newspaper notice on September 22, 1997, within the Town of Greenwich, apprising the public of the October 7, 1997 hearing.

        4. It is found that the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Greenwich ("board") is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(1), G.S., ( 1-18a(a), G.S., prior to Oct. 1, 1997).

        5. It is found that the proposed committee would be a committee of the board, appointed by the board, although consisting entirely of volunteers who are not members of the board.

        6. It is therefore, found that the proposed committee would also be a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(1), G.S., ( 1-18a(a), G.S., prior to Oct. 1, 1997).

        7. It is found that the purpose of the proposed committee would be to provide a voluntary and confidential forum for individuals interested in resolving disputes of alleged acts of discrimination, through a process of consensual, non-binding mediation.

        8. It is found that the proposed committee would hear grievance issues and attempt to mediate a resolution of such issues.

        9. It is further found that the proposed committee would supplement existing alternative remedies available and would not replace federal, state or judicial remedies.

        10. It is further found that the meetings of the proposed committee would be closed to the public and the records of the proposed committee would also be closed to the public, with the exception of a proposed annual report to be submitted to the board, describing the general nature and disposition of issues and recommendations regarding the resolution of such issues.

        11. It is found that on September 16, 1996, the members of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting, based upon the report and recommendation of the legislative and rules committee of such body, and after the legislative and rules Committee held public hearings on the issue, adopted a resolution to have the board appoint the proposed committee.

        12. The petitioner has requested that the proposed committee be exempted, carte blanche, from the FOI Act.

        13. In adopting the FOI Act in 1975, our legislature’s intent was to give voice to a strong legislative policy in favor of the open conduct of government:

The legislature finds and declares that . . . the people do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. That the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and that it is the intent of this law that actions taken by public agencies be taken openly and their deliberations be conducted openly and that the records of all public agencies be open to the public except in those instances where superior public interest requires confidentiality. (Emphasis added.)

18 H.R. Proc., Pt. 8, 1975 Sess., p. 3911, remarks of Representative Martin B. Burke; see also 18 S. Proc., Pt. 5, 1975 Sess., pp. 2323-24, remarks of Senator Robert L. Julianelle.

        14. Consequently, with respect to the records of public agencies, the FOI Act provides at 1-19(a), G.S., in relevant part:

Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records....

        15. In addition, with respect to the meetings of public agencies, the FOI Act provides at 1-21(a), G.S., in relevant part:

The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-18a, shall be open to the public.

        16. The petitioner contends that the benefit to the Town of Greenwich in resolving disputes of alleged acts of discrimination, through mediation at the municipal level, would be significant and further, that successful resolution of such disputes requires confidentiality.

        17. It is found that although confidentiality may in certain instances make mediation an attractive option to those individuals seeking such a forum, the Commission, in its judgment, does not find by reliable, probative and substantial evidence that the public interest in exempting the proposed committee from the application of the FOI Act clearly outweighs the public interest in applying the FOI Act to the proposed committee.

        18. It is also found that no public agency, not even judicial branch bodies and the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, the entity created by the state legislature to resolve disputes of the nature that the petitioner describes, has been permitted by the General Assembly to have a carte blanche exemption from the FOI law.

        19. It is therefore concluded that the Commission finds insufficient basis to grant the petition exempting the proposed committee from the FOI law.

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

        1. The petition is hereby denied.

        Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 25, 1998.

_________________________
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:
Town Attorney, Town of Greenwich
c/o John E. Meerbergen
Law Department
101 Field Point Road
P.O. Box 2540
Greenwich, CT 06836-2540

Bruce Hunter and The Greenwich Times
c/o Philip E. Kucera
Times Mirror
2 Park Avenue, 8th floor
New York, NY 10016-5689

__________________________
Doris V. Luetjen
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1997-028/FD/tcg/02251998