FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

James R. McLoughlin,

 

 

Complainants

 

 

against

 

Docket #FIC 1997-126

Jimmy Davis, Chairman, Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield; Alfred Allison and Barbara Bagnall as members Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield; and Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield,

 

 

Respondents

February 25, 1998

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 19, 1997, at which time the complainant and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-18a(1), G.S., ( 1-18a(a), G.S., prior to Oct. 1, 1997).

        2. By letter dated April 16, 1997 and filed on April 21, 1997, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act by:

a. discussing the complainant’s termination at an unnoticed meeting held on March 3, 1997; and

b. discussing the complainant’s termination in the open meeting on March 26, 1997 without the complainant’s knowledge or consent.

        3. On pages 1 and 2 of the April 16, 1997 letter of complaint the complainant also alleged that the respondents committed other violations. However, such allegations, specifically identified in the complaint letter as items 1 through 7, inclusive, are outside of the scope of this Commission’s jurisdiction.

        4. The complainant requested that the Commission impose the following remedies in this case: civil penalties upon the respondents; null and void the respondent board’s decisions of March 3 and March 26, 1997; request the intervention of a superior court judge to oversee the Blue Hills Fire District; order the removal and destruction of records concerning the complainant’s termination placed in his personnel file; order the reinstatement of the complainant to his rank of captain and position of deputy fire marshal; and order the chairman of the Blue Hills Fire District to submit a letter to the state fire marshal indicating that the complainant was wrongfully terminated.

        5. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2a of the findings, above, concerning a meeting held by the respondent board on March 3, 1997, the respondents contend that the complainant’s appeal filed on April 21, 1997 was untimely.

        6. Section 1-21i(b)(1), G.S., provides that a notice of appeal "shall be filed within thirty days after such denial, except in the case of an unnoticed or secret meeting, in which case the appeal shall be filed within thirty days after the person filing the appeal receives notice in fact that such meeting was held."

            7. It is found that the complainant received notice in fact on March 31, 1997 that a March 3, 1997 telephone conversation concerning his termination had occurred between two of the respondent board members.

        8. It is therefore, concluded that the complainant’s notice of appeal, with respect to the allegation of a March 3, 1997 meeting, was timely filed. Accordingly, this Commission has jurisdiction to hear the merits of the complainant’s allegation.

        9. It is found that on March 3, 1997, following an incident between the complainant and the chairman of the respondent board, the chairman of the respondent board telephoned another board member and discussed the termination of the complainant for insubordination.

        10. It is also found that sometime between March 3 and 4, 1997, following the March 3, 1997 telephone conversation the two board members, described in paragraph 9, above, decided to terminate the complainant for insubordination.

        11. Section 1-18a(2), G.S., defines meeting as: "[a]ny 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."

        12. It is found that the respondent board consists of three members and the March 3, 1997 telephone conversation between the chairman of the respondent board and the other board member constituted a communication by a quorum of a multimember public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(2), G.S.

        13. It is also found that the March 3, 1997 telephone conversation and the subsequent March 3 - March 4, 1997 decision to terminate the complainant, constituted discussion and action upon a matter over which the respondent board has advisory power within the meaning of 1-18a(2), G.S.

        14. It is therefore, concluded that the March 3, 1997 telephone conversation constituted a meeting within the meaning of 1-18a(2), G.S.

        15. Section 1-21(a), G.S., requires that the meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions as defined in 1-18a(6),G.S., be open to the public.

        16. In addition, 1-18a(6)(A), G. S., permits a public agency to discuss in an executive session "[t]he … employment, performance, evaluation …or dismissal of a public officer or employee, provided that such individual may require that discussion be held at an open meeting."

        17. It is concluded that the March 3, 1997 meeting was not held in accordance with the meeting provisions of 1-18a(6)(A) and 1-21(a), G. S., and therefore, the respondent board violated such provisions.

        18. The action taken by the chairman of the respondent board and the other board member, described in paragraph 10, above, is declared null and void.

        19. With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2b of the findings, above, it is found that the respondent board held a regular meeting on March 26, 1997 during which the respondent board discussed in the open meeting the termination of the complainant (hereinafter "meeting").

        20. It is found that the respondent board noticed the meeting and the termination discussion in accordance with the notice and agenda requirements of 1-18a(6)(A) and 1-21(a), G.S.

        21. Nothing in 1-18a(6)(A) and 1-21(a), G.S., required that the respondent board obtain the consent of the complainant prior to discussing his termination in the open meeting.

        22. It is therefore, concluded that the respondent board did not violate 1-18a(6)(A) and 1-21(a), G.S., with respect to the March 26, 1997 meting.

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

        1. With respect to the March 3, 1997 meeting, henceforth, the respondent board shall strictly comply with the meeting provisions 1-18a(2) and 1-21(a), G.S.

        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:
James R. McLoughlin
7 Foothills Way
Bloomfield, CT 06002

Jimmy Davis, Chairman, Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield; Alfred Allison and Barbara Bagnall as members Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield; and Board of Fire Commissioners, Blue Hills Fire District, Town of Bloomfield
c/o Philip K. Meister
Gerston and Gerston
234 Pearl Street
Hartford, CT 06103

__________________________
Doris V. Luetjen
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1997-126/FD/tcg/02251998