FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|Ron Robillard and The
Printing Company, Inc.,
|against||Docket #FIC 1997-374|
Economic Alliance Inc.; and Northeast
Connecticut Economic Alliance Inc.,
|Respondents||July 22, 1998|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on February 24, 1998, at which time the complainants and respondents appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. The case caption was modified to reflect the correct name of the respondent Northeast Connecticut Economic Alliance Inc. Docket #FIC 1997-428, Ron Robillard and The Chronicle Printing Company, Inc. v. President, Windham Mills Development Corporation and Windham Mills Development Corporation was consolidated with the above-captioned matter for purpose of hearing. Certain Northeast Connecticut Economic Alliance Inc. records including, by-laws, financial statements and assistance agreements were reviewed in camera.
After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:
1. It is found that on November 3, 1997 the respondent chairman denied a reporter for the complainant newspaper access to attend a meeting of the respondent alliance held on that date.
2. By letter of complaint dated November 13, 1997, and filed with the Commission on November 26, 1997, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
3. Because there is no dispute that the reporter would have been entitled to attend the meeting in question if the respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1- 18a(1), G.S., the dispositive issue in this case is whether the respondents are public agencies and therefore, subject to the requirements of the FOI Act.
4. The test for determining whether entities such as the respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1-18a(1), G.S., is set forth in Board of Trustees of Woodstock Academy v. FOI Commission, 181 Conn. 544 (1980), and consists of the following four criteria:
(a) whether the entity performs a governmental function; (b) the level of government funding; (c) the extent of government involvement or regulation; and (d) whether the entity was created by government.
5. The Supreme Court in Connecticut Humane Society v. FOI Commission, 218 Conn. 757, 761 (1991), advocated a case by case application of the Woodstock criteria, and established that all four of the foregoing criteria are not necessary for a finding of functional equivalence. Rather [a]ll relevant factors are to be considered cumulatively, with no single factor being essential or conclusive.
6. It is found that the respondent alliance provides financing resources, management consulting and business networking to expanding, relocating, and start-up companies. In this regard, the respondent alliance coordinates state, municipal, and private business support services, and works in conjunction with the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
7. It is also found that the respondent alliance works with the business, education and government sectors in the economic development of the northeast region.
8. It is further found that the respondent alliance neither sets government economic development policy, nor has any decision-making power over government economic development policy.
9. It is found however, that the respondent alliance engages in activities and provides services necessary to facilitate government economic development policy.
10. It is also found that the respondent alliance directs businesses to grant programs, assists them in shopping for loans and in preparing applications for financial assistance, lends money to businesses in distressed municipalities, and encourages relocation of manufacturing businesses from other areas within the state.
11. It is further found that the respondent alliance is governed by a fifteen member board of directors. The board elects directors whenever vacancies arise. The directors are affiliated with private business, higher education and government. Of the fifteen current directors, two are municipal officials.
12. It is further found that the respondent alliance was designated an implementing agency for the Windham Mills and State Heritage Park project by the town of Windham, within the meaning of §32-222(j), G.S., of the Economic Development and Manufacturing Assistance Act of 1990.
13. Section §32-222(j), G.S., defines implementing agency as:
one of the following agencies designated by a municipality (1) an economic development commission, redevelopment agency; sewer authority or sewer commission; public works commission; water authority or water commission; port authority or port commission or harbor authority or harbor commission; parking authority or parking commission; (2) a nonprofit development corporation; or (3) any other agency designated and authorized by a municipality to undertake a project and approved by the commissioner.
14. The legislative policy of the Economic Development and Manufacturing Assistance Act is set forth at §32-221, G.S., which provides:
It is found and declared that the maintenance and continued development of the state's manufacturing sector is important to the economic welfare of the state and to the retention and creation of job opportunities within the state; that the manufacturing sector of the state's economy is facing increased competition from other geographic areas of the world; that assistance from the state can promote the retention, expansion, and diversification of existing manufacturing businesses and encourage manufacturing and other economic base businesses from other geographic areas to locate into the state; that assistance from the state can enhance employment opportunity and the tax base of communities, particularly in the state's more economically disadvantaged communities; that the economic competitiveness of manufacturing and other economic base businesses is dependent in part upon the provision of adequate business support services such as day care, job training, education, transportation, employee housing, energy conservation, pollution control and recycling; that state assistance to promote the retention and expansion and increase the competitiveness of manufacturing and other economic base businesses is an important function of the state and is a public use for which public moneys may be expended; that in certain cases assistance and encouragement of diversification of manufacturing businesses within the state may promote the economic welfare of the state and is a public use and purpose for which public moneys may be expended; that the participation and cooperation of the State's agencies and authorities in providing financial assistance will improve the timeliness and decrease the costs to businesses of providing such assistance; and therefore the necessity in the public interest and for the public benefit and good for the provisions of sections 32-220 to 32-234, inclusive, is hereby declared as a matter of legislative determination.
15. It is also found that the respondent alliance was designated a development agency by the town within the meaning of §§8-186 and 8-188, G.S., for the Windham Mills project.
16. Section 8-186, G.S., provides:
It is found and declared that the economic welfare of the state depends upon the continued growth of industry and business within the state; that the acquisition and improvement of unified land and water areas and vacated commercial plants to meet the needs of industry and business should be in accordance with local, regional and state planning objectives; that such acquisition and improvement often cannot be accomplished through the ordinary operations of private enterprise at competitive rates of progress and economies of cost; that permitting and assisting municipalities to acquire and improve unified land and water areas and to acquire and improve or demolish vacated commercial plants for industrial and business purposes and, in distressed municipalities, to lend funds to businesses and industries within a project area in accordance with such planning objectives are public uses and purposes for which public moneys may be expended; and that the necessity in the public interest for the provisions of this chapter is hereby declared as a matter of legislative determination.
17. Section 8-188, G.S., in relevant part, provides:
Any municipality which has a planning commission is authorized to designate a nonprofit development corporation as its development agency and exercise through such agency the powers granted under this chapter . Any municipality may, with the approval of the commissioner, designate a separate economic development commission, redevelopment agency or nonprofit development corporation as its development agency for each development project undertaken by the municipality pursuant to this chapter.
18. It is found that the respondent alliance developed a municipal development project within the meaning of §32-222(l), G.S. Section 32-222(l), G.S., defines municipal development project to mean a business development project through which real property is acquired by a municipality or implementing agency as part of such project.
19. It is also found that the respondent alliance created Windham Mills Development Corporation in 1994 to acquire the Windham Mills property and to execute the respondent alliances municipal development project with respect to the redevelopment of such property. The respondent alliance took the property by eminent domain, acting as the towns authorized agent. The respondent alliance paid the town $1.00 in consideration for the property and then transferred title of the property to Windham Mills Development Corporation.
20. It is further found that promoting economic development is a governmental function and that the respondent alliance is performing that function.
21. It is further found that the respondent alliance is substantially funded by state and local government, primarily through grants and loans. The respondent alliance also receives funding from the town of Plainfield in connection with dog racing events. Such funding is authorized by §12-575(m)(3)(B), G.S., which provides that the respondent alliance receive two-tenths of one per cent of the total money wagered on dog racing events at any dog track operating prior to July 5, 1991.
22. It is further found that the respondent alliance maintains its office on the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University. Such office space is provided free to the respondent alliance by the university in exchange for services provided to ECSU, for example, the respondent alliance acts as a liaison to the business community.
23. It is therefore concluded that the respondent alliance receives substantial funding from the government.
24. It is found that the government does not impose extensive, or day to day supervision upon the respondent alliance.
25. However, it is found that the respondent alliance is subject to substantial government involvement and regulation as a result of its function and the funding it receives. Consequently, the respondent alliance is subject to various reporting and auditing requirements.
26. It is found that the respondent alliance is a nonstock, nonprofit corporation, exempt from federal income tax pursuant to §501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
27. It is also found that the respondent alliance was created in 1990 by a group of local residents interested in promoting the economic growth and base in the region encompassing the towns of Ashford, Brooklyn, Canterbury, Chaplain, Columbia, Coventry, Eastford, Hampton, Killingly, Mansfield, Plainfield, Pomfret, Putnam, Scotland, Sterling, Thompson, Willington, Windham, Woodstock and Union.
28. It is concluded that the respondent alliance was not created by government.
29. It is further concluded, based upon the totality of all relevant factors, that the respondents are the equivalent of public agencies within the meaning of §1-18a(a), G.S., and consequently, violated the FOI Act by denying the complainants reporter access to the November 3, 1997 meeting.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with the provisions of the FOI Act.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 22, 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:
Ron Robillard and The Chronicle Printing Company, Inc. c/o Ron Robillard One Chronicle Road P.O. Box 148 Willimantic, CT 06226-0148
Chairman, Northeast Connecticut Economic Alliance Inc.; and Northeast Connecticut Economic Alliance Inc. c/o Atty. Lisa Silvestri 56 Arbor Street Hartford, CT 06106
__________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission