In the Matter of a Complaint by


Suzanne Sorrentino and
The Stamford Advocate,






Docket #FIC 2001-337

Tax Collector, City of Norwalk,




October 10, 2001





            The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 14, 2001, at which time the complainants 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.


2.  By letter dated June 22, 2001, the complainants requested from the respondent the “complete list of [City of] Norwalk taxpayers to whom you sent ‘Demand for Payment’ notices dated June 20 [, 2001]” (hereinafter “payment notices”).


3.  By letter dated June 26, 2001, the respondent replied that the information requested had to be compiled and would be provided to the complainants as soon as possible.


4.  By letter dated July 11, 2001, the complainants appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (hereinafter “FOI”) Act by refusing to release the requested information.


5.  It is found that to the extent records exist that are responsive to the complainants’ request, such records are public records within the meaning of §1-200(5), G.S.


6.  It is found that under cover letter dated July 17, 2001, and received by the complainants on July 19, 2001, the respondent enclosed a list of 59 accounts owing past due personal property taxes, either in the amount of $10,000 or more, or owing for five or more years.  In the cover letter, the respondent stated that the list had to be manually compiled, that of the original 68 delinquent accounts on which payment notices were sent, 59 remained and that she assumed the complainants wanted the list as of July 17, 2001.


7.   It is further found that on July 18, 2001, the respondent sent by facsimile transmission, a copy of the list described in paragraph 6, above, to the complainant newspaper and to other local newspapers. 


8.  It is further found that by letter dated July 19, 2001, the complainants reiterated that their original request was for the names and account information of all taxpayers to whom payment notices had been sent on June 20, 2001, and that it was not limited to those taxpayers whose accounts had not been paid or were otherwise resolved, as of July 17, 2001.


9.  It is further found that by letter dated July 25, 2001, the respondent provided a list of the nine accounts that had been paid in full, removed by certificate of correction or combined, after the payment notices were sent on June 20, 2001.


10.  It is further found that the respondent’s provision of the information contained in or with her July 17, July 18 and July 25 communications ultimately supplied the complainants with the information they had been seeking since the date of their original request.


11.  The respondent maintained at the hearing on this matter that she did not have the list sought by the complainants at the time of their initial request.  She stated that she had sent payment notices on June 20, 2001 after running a report from her new computer system, which report was not entirely accurate, and which she had to revise, then cut in pieces and attach the appropriate account information to a payment notice form letter, for each taxpayer whose account was in excess of $10,000 or five years or more in arrears.


12.   The respondent further maintained that at the time of the complainants’ request, it was extremely busy in her office due to the personal property tax initiative that was underway and the implementation of the new computer system; and that she therefore could not immediately attempt to re-create the report described in paragraph 11, above, for the complainants.


13.   It is further found that in order to supply the complainants and the other newspapers with the list of the 59 accounts on July 17, 2001, the respondent ran a report similar to that which she had run on or before June 20, 2001 to ascertain which accounts were still owing; and that to supply the complainants with the second list on July 25, 2001 indicating which accounts had been paid after payment notices had been sent, the respondent reviewed certain cash books and compiled such list.


14.  Although contrary to good, professional business or government practices, it is found that at the time of the complainants’ request, the respondent did not maintain any list or other records that would identify precisely those accounts on which payment notices had been sent.  


15.  It is further found that the respondent wanted to, and did control the timing under which delinquent account information of any kind would be released from her office, as indicated by her provision to all of the local newspapers with the list of delinquent accounts at approximately the same time (referenced in paragraph 7, above), whether or not such newspapers had submitted requests for such information and the respondent’s testimony that such list was disclosed to the complainants at roughly the same time that she had to compile such information for her own purposes to execute tax levies on delinquent accounts.  However, such actions do not constitute a violation of the FOI Act in the absence of any evidence that responsive records existed at the time of the complainants’ request.


16.  It is concluded that the respondent did not violate the disclosure provisions of the FOI Act under the facts and circumstances of this case.


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 encourages the respondent to communicate better with the complainants, should she receive similar future requests, concerning any difficulties she may have responding to such requests.  The limited degree of communication in this case clearly left the complainants with the false impression that the respondent was withholding records from them and led to their strenuous pursuit of this complaint before the Commission.



Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of October 10, 2001.




Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission






Suzanne Sorrentino and

The Stamford Advocate

75 Tresser Boulevard

PO Box 9307

Stamford, CT 06904


Tax Collector

City of Norwalk

c/o Peter J. Strassberger, Esq.

Assistant Corporation Counsel

PO Box 798

Norwalk, CT 06856-0798




Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission