FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|Nancy Doniger and The Monroe Courier,|
|against||Docket #FIC 1998-058|
|Chairman, Monroe Board
Commissioners, Town of Monroe; and
Monroe Board of Police Commissioners,
Town of Monroe,
|Respondents||August 26, 1998|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 18, 1998, at which time the complainants 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.
2. By letter dated February 26, 1998 and filed March 3, 1998, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act by excluding the public from two sessions of the respondent board which took place on the evening of February 5, 1998. The complainants asked that the respondent boards meeting of February 5, 1998 be declared null and void, that the respondent board be ordered to reschedule such meeting, that the respondent board be ordered to hold all future grievance hearings in open session when the grievant waives a closed hearing, and that the respondent board be ordered to file minutes of meetings in accordance with the FOI Act. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant asked for additional remedies.
3. It is found that the respondents scheduled a regular meeting for 7:30P.M. on February 5, 1998, and that the posted agenda for such meeting listed a possible hearing and action on a union grievance. It is further found that an amended agenda was later posted and that such amended agenda announced that the respondent board would conduct a grievance meeting with the police union at 7:00P.M. on the evening of February 5, 1998, and, further, that such meeting would not be subject to FOI Act requirements.
4. It is found that the respondents assembled at 7:00P.M. on the evening of February 5, 1998 together with their attorney and that the discussion in such session consisted of strategy related to the union grievance described in paragraph 3, above. It is further found that the public was excluded from this session.
5. It is also found that the respondents, upon noting that the time was approximately 7:45P.M., convened its regular meeting in open session. It is further found that the respondents shortly thereafter recessed such meeting in order to continue the discussion described in paragraph 4, above, and that the public was excluded from this session, as well.
6. It is found that, pursuant to the collective bargaining contract controlling the grievance described in paragraph 3, above, the respondent board must meet with the appropriate union representative to determine if resolution of the grievance is possible.
7. It is found that at one point during the session described in paragraph 5, above, the grievant and his union representative were included in the discussion in order to determine if the union would be representing the grievant, as well as to determine the manner in which the grievant wished to proceed. It is found that during such session, the union representative informed the respondents that he would represent the grievant, and the greivant informed the respondents that he wished a public hearing on his grievance. It is further found that no evidence was presented at the recess.
8. It is found that the respondents reconvened the public portion of the regular meeting and thereupon conducted a public hearing on the grievance. It is found that the union representative read a statement in the course of such open hearing but presented no other evidence. It is further found that the opposing party to the grievance, the Monroe police chief, was given an opportunity to present evidence but declined to do so. It is further found that the respondent board did not allow public participation in the hearing described herein.
9. At the hearing on this matter, the complainants alleged that the respondents conducted illegal executive sessions by failing to vote to exclude the public from the sessions described in paragraphs 4 and 5, above. The complainants also alleged that the respondents violated the FOI Act by failing to file minutes of such sessions. The complainants further alleged that the respondents violated the FOI Act by declining to allow public participation in the hearing described in paragraph 8, above. 10. Section 1-21(a), G.S., in relevant part provides:
[t]he meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-18a, shall be open to the public. The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection within forty-eight hours and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken, which minutes shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer. A public agency may hold an executive session as defined in subdivision (6) 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 1-18a.
11. The respondents contend that the sessions described in paragraphs 4 and 5, above, were not meetings of the respondent board pursuant to §1-18a(2), G.S. 12. Section 1-18a(2), G.S., in relevant part provides that a meeting means:
any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, and any 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. "Meeting" shall not include strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining . [Emphasis added].
13. It is found that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the sessions described in paragraphs 4 and 5, above, did not constitute meetings of the respondent board within the meaning of §1-18a(2), G.S. Therefore, it is concluded that the notice, minutes, and voting requirements which attach to meetings pursuant to §1-21(a), G.S., did not apply to such sessions. It is further concluded that the respondents did not violate §1-21(a), G.S. by failing to comply with such requirements.
14. Since the FOI Act does not mandate that public agencies allow public participation in its meetings, it is concluded that the Commission cannot sustain the complainants allegation, described in paragraph 9, above, related to the respondents decision to prohibit public comment during the hearing described in paragraph 8, above.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. The complaint is hereby dismissed.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 26, 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:
Nancy Doniger and The Monroe Courier Hometown Publications 1000 Bridgeport Avenue Shelton, CT 06484
Chairman, Monroe Board of Police Commissioners, Town of Monroe; and Monroe Board of Police Commissioners, Town of Monroe c/o Atty. Catherine Thompson Sullivan, Schoen, Campane & Connon, LLC 24 Stony Hill Road, Suite 106 Bethel, CT 06801-1166
__________________________ Doris V. Luetjen Acting Clerk of the Commission