OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|against||Docket #FIC 2001-491|
Town of Enfield,
|Respondents||September 25, 2002|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 21, 2002, 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.
2. By letter dated October 22, 2001, and filed with the Commission on October 26, 2001, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the majority and minority leaders of the respondent violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act by holding secret meetings in person or by telephone outside public scrutiny, “the purpose of which is to discuss town business, arrive at a consensus or decision and then, to communicate the consensus or decision to a quorum of the town council prior to publicly held town council meetings.” The complainant requested that the Commission order disclosure of the information discussed at the “secret meetings” and telephone conversations between Enfield Democratic Town Council leader William Vayda and Republican Town Council leader Mary Lou Strom [hereinafter “the leaders”], and that the Commission order the production of a list of such meetings. The letter of complaint does not cite specific meeting dates, but refers to two newspaper articles, quoting the leaders. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant requested that the Commission order the production of a list going back approximately four and one-half years, or covering the last two terms.
3. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant alleged that the leaders typically meet prior to the meetings of the respondent and discuss substantive business of the respondent, then confer with their respective caucuses prior to the public meetings. The complainant testified that he had been aware of such alleged meetings [hereinafter “leadership meetings”] for several years. The complainant did not testify about specific telephone conversations.
4. Section 1-206(b)(1), G. S., provides in relevant part that:
[a]ny person denied the right to inspect or copy records under section 1-210 or wrongfully 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, by filing a notice of appeal with said 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….
5. It is found that the complainant had notice in fact of the leadership meetings more than thirty days before the filing of the complaint in this matter, excepting any such alleged meetings that took place on or after September 26, 2001 and before October 26, 2001. Accordingly, it is concluded that the Commission lacks subject matter jurisdiction to address the allegations insofar as they relate to the leadership meetings, held prior to September 26, 2001 and after October 26, 2001.
6. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant also alleged that Ms. Strom, during the time she was Enfield mayor, which term ended at the November election, occasionally held “meetings” of council members at her home, where substantive business of the respondent council was discussed. The Commission notes that, while such meetings were referenced in one of the newspaper articles described in paragraph 2, above, such allegation was not raised in the complaint. In addition, with respect to the allegation regarding any meetings at Ms. Strom’s home, the complainant testified about only one specific meeting, in November 1999, and further testified that he had knowledge of such meeting the day after it occurred. It is concluded that the Commission lacks subject matter jurisdiction to address any such alleged meetings held in Ms. Strom’s home in November 1999.
7. With respect to any leadership meetings that allegedly took place between September 26, 2001 and October 26, 2001, the complainant failed to provide either specific dates of any such meetings, or evidence as to what occurred at any such meetings, other than hearsay contained in the newspaper articles described in paragraph 2, above. However, the respondent admitted that certain gatherings typically take place prior to the respondent council’s meetings and include the leaders and the town manager. The respondent further admitted that during such gatherings those involved prioritize the agenda items, and that after such gatherings, each leader may report back to his or her caucus.
8. Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that: “[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.”
9. Section 1-200(2), G.S., defines “meeting” to include:
…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:…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; …and communication limited to notice of meetings of any public agency or the agendas thereof….
10. It is found that the discussions described in paragraph 7, above, at which the agenda items were prioritized, constitute communications limited to the agenda within the meaning §1-200(2), G.S., and are therefore not meetings.
11. It is also found that any discussions held by a caucus of the respondent’s members are not meetings within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.
12. It is further found that the discussions described in paragraph 7, above, do not constitute hearings within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.
13. It is also found that the discussions described in paragraph 7, above, do not constitute a convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, or any communication by or to a quorum of a multimember public agency, in light of the fact that the respondent consists of eleven members.
14. It is further found that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the respondent authorized any of the discussions described in paragraph 7, above, either explicitly or implicitly. Consequently, it is concluded that any such discussions did not constitute a proceeding of the respondent, within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.
15. It is therefore concluded that the discussions described in paragraph 7, above, did not constitute “meetings,” as defined in §1-200(2), G.S., and 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.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 25, 2002.
Petrea A. Jones
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:
Town of Enfield
c/o Christopher W. Bromson, Esq.
Town Attorney, Town of Enfield
820 Enfield Street
Enfield, CT 06082
Petrea A. Jones
Acting Clerk of the Commission