FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Eric Treaster
Complainants
against Docket #FIC 1998-557
Zoning Board of Appeals,
City of New London
Respondents July 14, 1999

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 13, 1999, at which time the complainant and the respondent 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 respondent is a public agency within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S. [formerly 1-18a(1), G.S.]

        2. By letter dated December 28, 1998 and filed December 29, 1998, the complainant appealed to this Commission essentially alleging that the respondent convened a number of secret or unnoticed meetings prior to its December 17, 1998 meeting, at which it denied the complainant’s application for a parking variance for 57 Faire Harbour Place in New London (hereinafter "variance application"), in violation of 1-206, G.S. [formerly 1-21i , G.S.]. Specifically, the complainant alleged that:

a. members of the respondent met secretly before and after the respondent closed the public hearing on the variance;

b. the New London Zoning Enforcement Officer (hereinafter "ZEO") met secretly with at least one other individual at 57 Faire Harbour Place;

c. members of the respondent and/or the ZEO met secretly with members of the New London Police Department (hereinafter "NLPD") and officials from Lawrence and Memorial Hospital (hereinafter "L&M");

d. members of the respondent and/or the ZEO met secretly with members of the NLPD and/or other city officials; and

e. members of the respondent and/or the ZEO held a series of telephone conversations with members of the NLPD and/or other city officials.

In addition, the complainant alleged that he had been denied the right to inspect records created as a result of the alleged secret or unnoticed meetings described above.

        3. At the hearing on this matter, the complainant withdrew those portions of his complaint identified in paragraphs 2a., 2b. and 2e., above.

        4. Also at the hearing on this matter, the complainant indicated that the remaining portions of his complaint relate to gatherings between the ZEO and certain city and L&M officials that allegedly took place after the September 24, 1998 public hearing on the variance application. The complainant maintained that the respondent must have held secret or unnoticed meetings at which it directed the ZEO to convene such gatherings and further, that the gatherings convened by the ZEO, the respondent’s agent, constituted secret or unnoticed meetings of the respondent.

        5. Section 1-225(a), G.S., [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.], provides in relevant part that: "[t]he meetings of all public agencies … shall be open to the public."

        6. Section 1-206(b)(1), G.S, [formerly 1-21i(b)(1), G.S.], provides in relevant part that:

"Any person denied the right to…attend any meeting of a public agency or denied any other right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act may appeal therefrom to the Freedom of Information Commission.….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. Pursuant to the provisions of 1-206(b)(1), G.S. [formerly 1-21i(b)(1), G.S.], the Commission’s jurisdiction in this matter is limited to those alleged meetings or gatherings that took place within thirty days after the complainant had notice in fact that such alleged meetings or gatherings took place.

        8. It is found that the respondent board closed the public hearing on the complainant’s variance application on September 24, 1998.

        9. It is also found that the variance application was considered and tabled at the respondent’s September 24, October 29 and November 20, 1998 meetings, before it was ultimately denied at the December 17, 1998 meeting.

        10. It is further found that the complainant learned, and thereby had notice in fact, that certain alleged meetings or gatherings had taken place when he attended both the October 29, 1998 meeting and the November 20, 1998 meeting of the respondent. However, the complainant did not file an appeal concerning those alleged meetings or gatherings within thirty days of receiving such notice in fact.

        11. It is therefore concluded that the Commission only has jurisdiction in this matter over any alleged meetings or gatherings that took place after the respondent’s November 20, 1998 meeting.

        12. The complainant claims that the fact that two members of the respondent indicated at the September 24, 1998 meeting that they were inclined to vote in favor of the variance application but then voted to deny it at the December 17, 1998 meeting, is evidence that the respondent must have held secret or unnoticed meetings.

        13. It is found however, that the fact that members of the respondent changed their minds about their vote on the variance application does not establish that the respondent held secret or unnoticed meetings, as alleged by the complainant.

        14. It is found that between November 20, 1998 and December 17, 1998, the time period covered by this complaint, the ZEO met on one or more occasions with, at least, the city manager and a traffic officer of the NLPD and arrived at an agreement with them to help alleviate the parking problem at 57 Faire Harbour Place.

        15. The complainant claims that the ZEO has no independent authority after the close of a public hearing to meet with officials and/or gather additional information for the respondent’s consideration and that members of the respondent therefore must have held secret or unnoticed meetings after the close of the public hearing and directed her to continue to meet with officials and gather information.

        16. It is found however, that the respondent did not convene any secret or unnoticed meetings between November 20, 1998 and December 17, 1998, to direct the ZEO to convene the meetings described in paragraph 14 , above, or to conduct any other business pertaining to the variance application.

        17. It is further found that the meetings between the ZEO and the officials described in paragraph 14, above, did not constitute meetings of the respondent, as alleged by the complainant; rather such meetings constituted administrative meetings of the ZEO. The Commission lacks jurisdiction to determine whether the ZEO had the independent authority to convene such meetings after the public hearing on the variance application.

        18. It is therefore concluded that the respondent did not violate 1-225(a), G.S., [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.],with respect to the complainant’s allegations described in paragraphs 3c. and 3d., above.

        19. With respect to the complainant’s allegation that he had been denied access to inspect records created as a result of the alleged secret or unnoticed meetings, the complainant indicated at the hearing on this matter that he had been given access to all records generated in connection with the variance application. It is therefore concluded that the respondent did not violate the Freedom of Information Act with respect to such allegation.

 

        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

July 14, 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:

 

Eric Treaster
PO Box 788
New London, CT 06320
Zoning Board of Appeals,
City of New London
c/o Atty. Thomas J. Londregan
Conway & Londregan
38 Huntington Street
PO Box 1351
New London, CT 06320
 

 

 

__________________________

Melanie R. Balfour

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC1998-557FD/mrb/07151999