FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by

FINAL DECISION

Anne M. Hamilton and The Hartford Courant,

 

 

Complainants

 

 

against

 

Docket #FIC 1997-412

Patricia Daniel, Superintendent, Hartford Public Schools; and Board of Education, City of Hartford,

 

 

Respondents

May 13, 1998

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 4, 1998, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. For purposes of hearing, this case was consolidated with Docket # FIC1997-420 Anne M. Hamilton and The Hartford Courant against Patricia Daniel, Superintendent, Hartford Public Schools; Gloria de Jesus, Coordinator, Office of Assessments and Teaching Strategy, Hartford Public Schools; Board of Education, City of Hartford; and Hartford Public Schools and Docket # FIC1998-006 Anne M. Hamilton and The Hartford Courant against Patricia Daniel, Superintendent, Hartford Public Schools; Robert Stacy, Human Resources Director, Hartford Public Schools; and Hartford Board of Education, City of Hartford. The case caption in this matter has been amended to reflect the correct names of the respondents.

        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 October 17, 1997, the complainants requested from the respondent superintendent copies of:

a) a letter sent to the respondent superintendent by a custodian/maintenance worker at the Interdistrict Montessori School concerning a parents meeting and the parents desire to use the school for the meeting and the subsequent arrival of police officers, which letter was received within the past six weeks;

b) any accusations or complaints made against Mr. Menendez;

c) all advertisements or notices published or distributed that informed the public about the school, including but not limited to, how to apply and how the selection process works; and

d) data concerning the overtime paid to administrators at the school in 1994-1995, 1995-1996 and 1996-1997, showing how much was paid to each person.

        3. On several occasions following their October 17, 1997 request, and finally by facsimile transmission on December 8, 1997, the complainants reiterated their records request.

        4. Having failed to receive the requested records, the complainants appealed to the Commission by letter dated December 15, 1997 and filed December 22, 1997. In addition, the complainants requested the imposition of a civil penalty in the amount of $1,000.00 against the custodian of the records.

        5. It is found that the requested records are public records within the meaning of 1-18a(5), G.S. and 1-19(a), G.S.

        6. Section 1-19(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:

[e]xcept as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained…by any public agency…shall be public records and every person shall have the right to inspect such records promptly…or to receive a copy of such records….

        7. It is found that the respondents do not claim that the requested records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to federal law or state statute, but rather the respondents ask indulgence from the Commission since the respondent superintendent is new to Connecticut and unfamiliar with the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act. The respondents further contend that frequent staff changes and lack of appropriate training about the mandates of the FOI Act also resulted in their failure to properly respond to the complainants’ request.

        8. It is found that the respondent Daniel did not promptly comply with the complainants’ request within the meaning of the FOI Act and in fact had not complied with the complainants’ request up to the date of the hearing on this matter; it is therefore concluded that such respondent violated the provisions of 1-19(a), G.S.

        9. Section 1-21i(b)(2), G.S., in relevant part states:

…upon the finding that a denial of any right created by the [FOI] Act was without reasonable grounds and after the custodian or other official directly responsible for the denial has been given an opportunity to be heard at a hearing…the commission may, in its discretion, impose against the custodian or other official a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollars….

        10. The Commission takes administrative notice of its order issued in Docket #FIC1997-233, Anne M. Hamilton and The Hartford Courant against Public Information Officer, Hartford Board of Education, Hartford Public Schools; and Superintendent of Schools, Hartford Public Schools, wherein the respondent superintendent was cautioned that future violations might result in civil penalties.

        11. It is found that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the respondent Daniel’s denial of the complainants’ rights under 1-19(a), G.S., was without reasonable grounds.

        12. At the hearing on this matter, the respondents agreed to immediately provide the complainants with copies of the requested records.

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

        1. If she has not already done so, the respondent Daniel shall forthwith provide the complainants with the records described in paragraph 2 of the findings, above.

        2. Henceforth, the respondent Daniel shall strictly comply with the provisions of 1-19(a), G.S.

        3. Forthwith, the respondent Daniel, as the official directly responsible for the violation described in paragraphs 8 and 11 of the findings, above, shall remit to this Commission a civil penalty in the amount of twenty-five dollars.

        4. The respondent Daniel is cautioned that further violations of the FOI Act in the future may result in the in the imposition of larger civil penalties.

        5. The complaint against the respondent board is hereby dismissed, as the respondent board apparently had no role in the subject matter of this complaint.

        Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 13, 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:
Anne M. Hamilton
The Hartford Courant
285 Broad Street
Hartford, CT 06115

Patricia Daniel, Superintendent, Hartford Public Schools; and Board of Education, City of Hartford
c/o Atty. Ann F. Bird
Asst. Corporation Counsel
550 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06103

__________________________
Doris V. Luetjen
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC1997-412/FD/tcg/05181998