FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|Matthew A. Paulsen,|
|against||Docket #FIC 1998-200|
|First Selectman, Town of Bethel;
Board of Selectman, Town of Bethel;
and Town of Bethel,
|Respondents||January 13, 1999|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on October 19, 1998, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared 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(a), G.S.
2. By letter dated and filed with the Commission on July 17, 1998, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding an unnoticed meeting of a quorum of the respondent Board on Sunday, July 12, 1998 ("the meeting" or "roundtable meeting").
3. Section 1-18a(2), G.S., defines "meeting" as:
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. [emphasis added.]
4. However, § 1-18a(2), G.S., also states that:
"Meeting" shall not include: any chance meeting, or a social meeting neither planned nor intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to official business; a caucus of members of a single political party notwithstanding that such members also constitute a quorum of a public agency .
5. Section 1-18a(3), G.S., goes on to define "caucus" as:
a convening or assembly of the enrolled members of a single political party who are members of a public agency within the state or a political subdivision.
6. It is found that there was an unnoticed meeting on July 12, 1998 of five individuals: Charles Steck, first selectman, board of selectmen; John Thiele, member, board of selectman; Richard Kerivan, chairman, board of finance; Robert Denninger, member, board of finance; and Richard Merrit, member, board of finance. All five individuals are enrolled as members of the Republican party. The meeting was held at the barn of Mr. Stecks property and lasted for an hour to an hour and a quarter.
7. It is found that the meeting was convened by Richard Kerivan, chairman, board of finance, and Robert Denninger, member, board of finance, as a board of finance "roundtable", in order to discuss budget subject matters that would be taken up at the board of finance meeting on the following evening, Monday, July 13, 1998. The roundtable meeting followed the fifth rejection of a town budget at referendum and anticipated the forthcoming sixth budget referendum.
8. It is found that first selectman Charles Steck attended the meeting for fifteen or twenty minutes, and that selectman John Thiele attended the entire meeting, acting as a "sounding board" and answering questions sporadically concerning the budget.
9. Respondents contend that the respondent board of selectmen (the "respondent board") had no "business purpose" at the meeting, arguing that the respondent boards function in the budget making process had been completed. However, it is found that the respondent board did have supervisory authority over all town business and continuing advisory power with reference to the budget, even after its formal charter responsibilities had been acquitted.
10. Based upon these findings, it is concluded that the meeting was not a caucus of either the respondent board or the board of finance because, in the case of each individual public agency, there were individuals actively participating at the meeting who were not members of a given public agency. In other words, the meeting was not a caucus of the respondent board because persons who were not members of the respondent board were also participating. Conversely, the meeting was not a caucus of the board of finance because persons who were not members of the board of finance were also participating.
11. It is also concluded that the meeting constituted the convening of a quorum of the respondent board for the purpose of discussing matters over which the respondent board has supervision and advisory power, and therefore, that the meeting was a "meeting" of the respondent board as defined by § 1-18a(a), G.S.
12. It is finally concluded that the respondents violated § 1-21, G.S., when the respondent board failed to give notice of the meeting and held the meeting as a closed 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 give notice of all meetings of public agencies and such meetings shall be open to the public.
2. The respondents shall post the final decision of the Commission in this matter on a public bulletin board at town hall for thirty days.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 13, 1999.
Melanie R. Balfour
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:
Matthew A. Paulsen
PO Box 1012
4 Maple Avenue
Bethel, CT 06801
First Selectman, Town of
Bethel; Board of Selectman,
Town of Bethel; and Town
c/o Atty. Roseann G. Padula
646 Prospect Avenue
Hartford, CT 06105-4286
Melanie R. Balfour
Acting Clerk of the Commission