FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
James R. Stomboli,
Complainants
against Docket #FIC 1999-081
John Finkle, Chairman, Board of Education,
East Haven Public Schools,
Respondents August 25, 1999

        The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on April 29, 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 and the East Haven Board of Education (hereinafter "the board") are public agencies within the meaning of 1-200(a), G.S. [formerly 1-18a(1) G.S.]

        2. By letter of complaint dated February 23, 1999, and filed with the Commission on February 24, 1999, the complainant alleged that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act by convening an emergency special meeting of the board on February 13, 1999, when no emergency existed. The complainant requested that the Commission declare null and void the actions taken by the board at such meeting and impose a civil penalty against the respondent.

        3. It is found that, on Saturday, February 13, 1999, the board held a special meeting at 9:00 A.M., and that no prior notice was posted of such meeting within the meaning of 1-225(a), G.S. [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.]

        4. Section 1-225(a), G.S. [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.], provides in relevant part:

[t]he meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public…. Notice of each special meeting of every public agency…shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of such meeting by filing a notice of the time and place thereof in the office of …the clerk of such subdivision for any public agency of a political subdivision of the state….Such notice shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of the special meeting; provided, in case of emergency…any such special meeting may be held without complying with the foregoing requirement for the filing of notice but a copy of the minutes of every such emergency special meeting adequately setting forth the nature of the emergency and the proceedings occurring at such meeting shall be filed with… the clerk of such political subdivision…not later than seventy-two hours following the holding of such meeting....

        5. It is found that the meeting described in paragraph 3, above, was a "meeting" within the meaning of 1-200(2), G.S. [formerly 18a(2), G.S.], and that the purpose of such meeting was to ratify the separation agreement between the board and the superintendent of schools (hereinafter "the superintendent").

        6. It is further found that the board and the superintendent had been involved in a contract dispute since at least early January, 1999. It is also found that the superintendent had accepted a position in California and had informed the board of her intention to relocate to that state.

        7. It is found that the superintendent, through her attorney, had threatened various legal actions against the board in the event that a mutually agreed upon separation agreement could not be achieved.

        8. It is also found that, at all relevant times, the board was defendant or respondent in various legal actions, in which the assistance and/or testimony of the superintendent was vital to the board’s defense. It is further found that the board was concerned that the superintendent’s move outside the jurisdiction of Connecticut would deprive it of the assistance and/or testimony of the superintendent in such actions.

        9. It is also found that the superintendent’s departure would occur in the midst of the school year during a crucial time of budget preparation.

        10. It is found that the board sought to protect its position in the contract dispute by drafting a separation agreement, whereby the board would compensate the superintendent in exchange for a release from all future legal claims against the board, the superintendent’s agreement to assist, and/or testify for, the board in the pending legal actions described in paragraph 8, above, and a clear severance of contract, so that an immediate search for a replacement superintendent could begin.

        11. It is found that, at a special meeting of the board on February 1, 1999, the board met in executive session to discuss the separation between the board and the superintendent. It is further found, that, upon returning to open session, the board voted to table ratification of the agreement. It is further found that the board was in disagreement over the proposed amount of the superintendent’s compensation. It is further found that the superintendent abruptly left such meeting when the board failed to ratify the separation agreement.

        12. It is found that, on February 2, 1999, the superintendent did not report to work, informed her office that she was ill, and remained out of the office on sick leave thereafter.

        13. It is found that the board, through its attorney, continued to work on the separation agreement with the superintendent’s attorney, and that the superintendent rejected two drafts of a separation agreement between February 2, 1999 and February 11, 1999.

        14. It is found that, on Thursday afternoon, February 11, 1999, the board’s attorney and the superintendent’s attorney finally agreed upon a compensation sum of $10,500 and that they thereafter sought the approval of their clients.

        15. It is found that, at 4:00 P.M. on Friday, February 12, 1999, the superintendent’s attorney informed the board’s attorney that the sum described in paragraph 14, above, was acceptable to the superintendent, but that her acceptance was only on the table until the afternoon of Saturday, February 13, 1999, at which point the superintendent was flying to California. It is found that such announcement was the first indication the board received concerning the superintendent’s scheduled date of departure.

        16. It is found that, on the evening of February 12, 1999, telephone calls were made to the board members in order to determine if a quorum could be found and that a meeting was arranged for 9:00 A.M. the next day. It is further found that the board notified the New Haven Register of the impending meeting and that a reporter for such newspaper attended the meeting the following morning.

        17. It is found that the board assembled on the morning of February 13, 1999 in a school building, and informed the security guard that members of the public should be informed of the meeting and directed to the meeting room.

        18. It is found that the February 13, 1999 meeting was held in open session.

        19. It is found that the board’s notice of the sudden imminent departure of the superintendent as described in paragraph 15, above, was an unexpected situation or a sudden occurrence of a serious and urgent nature that demanded immediate action and that there was no time for the board to post notice of its special meeting twenty-four hours in advance.

        20. It is found that the circumstances of the board’s February 13, 1999, meeting constituted an emergency within the meaning of 1-225(a), G.S. [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.]

        21. It is further found that the minutes of the February 13, 1999, meeting were properly filed within seventy-two hours as required by 1-225(a), G.S. [formerly 1-21(a), G.S.]

 

        22. It is further found that the board acted in good faith in trying to inform the public of its February 13, 1999 meeting by notifying the local newspaper, and by conducting such meeting in open session.

        23. Therefore, it is concluded that the respondent did not violate the FOI Act as alleged in the complaint.

        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.

        2. The Commission appreciates the concerns of the complainant in this matter and cautions the respondent that emergency meetings should rarely, if ever, occur and that the Commission strictly reviews allegations relating to such meetings.

 

        Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of

August 25, 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:

 

James R. Stomboli
17 Clancy Street
East Haven, CT 06512-1312
John Finkle, Chairman, Board of Education, East Haven Public Schools
c/o Atty. Donald F. Houston
Durant, Nichols, Houston, Mitchell & Sheahan P.C.
1057 Broad Street, PO Box 351
Bridgeport, CT 06601-3438
 

 

 

 

__________________________

Melanie R. Balfour

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC1999-081FD/mrb/08261999