FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Jennifer M. Ranciato,
  Complainant  
  against Docket #FIC 2003-216

City Council, City of West Haven;

Tax Collector, City of West Haven; and

Finance Director, City of West Haven,

 
  Respondent May 26, 2004
       

 

            The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on December 11, 2003, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  At the hearing on this matter, the complainant indicated that she wished to withdraw the complaint as against the City Council, City of West Haven.

 

            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 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.  By letter dated May 12, 2003, the complainant requested numerous records from the respondents tax collector and finance director, as well as the “freedom of information officer” in the corporation counsel’s office of the City of West Haven (hereinafter “City”).  Specifically, the complainant requested:

 

a.  All files, records or memoranda relative to applications, requests, proposals, or the like, by persons or entities to forgive servicing fees by JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

b.  Any and all City Council actions related to JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

c.  Any and all City Council actions related to any tax liens from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

d.  Any and all actions by the City of West Haven Tax Collector related to applications, requests, proposals or the like, by persons or entities to forgive servicing fees by JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

e.  Any and all actions by the City of West Haven Finance Director related to applications, requests, proposals or the like, by persons or entities to forgive servicing fees by JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

f.  Documentation relative to any and all requests by Steven Kasowitz to the City Council, Tax Collector or Finance Director relative to any applications, requests, proposals or the like, to forgive tax liens and/or servicing fees by JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

g.  Any and all lists of properties turned over to JER Revenue Services, LLC, for collection activities from July 1, 2002 to the present;

 

h.  Any and all documentation relative to the criteria utilized to turn over files to JER Revenue Services, LLC, from July 1, 2002 to the present; and

 

i.  Any and all documentation relative to tax liens turned over to any and all attorneys utilized by the City of West Haven to initiate foreclosure proceedings on any delinquent tax lists for the City of West Haven from July 1, 2002 to the present.

 

3.  By letter dated May 12, 2003, the respondent finance director replied to the complainant’s request, wherein he indicated that he was responding on behalf of the others to whom the request had been directed, and that he was compiling the requested information from a number of sources and would advise when it would be available, on or about May 23, 2003.

 

4.  On or about May 29, 2003, the respondent finance director met with the complainant and advised her that there were no records responsive to her request described in paragraphs 2 a., b., d., e., f., h. and i.  With respect to paragraph 2c., the respondent finance director indicated that he was still compiling the responsive records.  With respect to paragraph 2g., the respondent finance director provided the complainant with a record, over two hundred pages in length, that constituted the list of properties turned over to JER Revenue Services, LLC, for collection activities from July 1, 2002 through the present date.

 

            5.  By follow-up letter dated June 1, 2003, the complainant asked the respondent finance director to indicate what records responsive to her May 12, 2003 request had not been provided.  Further, the complainant asked for additional records and posed several follow-up questions to the respondent finance director. 

            6.  By letter of complaint dated and filed June 10, 2003, the complainant appealed to the Commission alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (hereinafter “FOI”) Act by failing to comply with her May 12, 2003 request.  In addition, the complainant requested that the Commission impose sanctions on the respondents due to their willful disregard of the FOI Act.

 

7.   Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:

 

(a)  Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, (2) copy such records in accordance with subsection (g) of section 1-212, or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212. 

 

8.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that “[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record….”

 

9.  It is found that to the extent records exist that are responsive to the complainant’s request, such records are public records within the meaning of 1-210(a), G.S.

 

10.  It is found that the City engaged the services of JER Revenue Services, LLC, on or about July 1, 2002 for the purpose of servicing the City’s tax lien portfolio.  It is further found that the complainant is an attorney who represents a number of taxpayers in a declaratory judgment action against the City wherein the taxpayers allege that the City imposed an improper surcharge on their tax bills. 

 

11.  It is found that between the complainant’s June 1, 2003 follow-up letter and June 19, 2003, a series of correspondence between the respondent finance director and the complainant were exchanged; initially, the respondent finance director indicated in his correspondence that he would not respond to questions or create new records for the complainant.  Ultimately, however, the respondent finance director responded to each of the complainant’s questions and provided additional records. 

 

12.  Among the records provided to the complainant during June 2003, were tax lien records, in response to the complainant’s request described in paragraph 2c., above, which records the respondent finance director had obtained from the City Council.  Further, upon learning through discussions with the complainant that she was really interested in obtaining tax abatement records, rather than the tax lien records she had requested, the respondent finance director located such tax abatement records and provided them to the complainant. 

 

13.  At the hearing on this matter, the complainant claimed that she still had not been provided with certain records responsive to her May 12, 2003 request.  Specifically, the complainant focused on those records described in paragraph 2f., g., and h., above.

           

14.  With respect to the request described in paragraph 2f., above, the complainant claimed that the respondent finance director’s reply that no responsive records exist was false.  The complainant stated that she had obtained a responsive record concerning a request by Mr. Kasowitz to forgive tax liens and/or servicing fees during the course of discovery in the litigation described in paragraph 10, above. 

 

15.  It is found however, that the respondent finance director conducted a search for responsive records concerning Mr. Kasowitz upon receipt of the complainant’s May 12, 2003 request but did not locate any because there was none listed under his name.  Later, the finance director learned that a request had been submitted under a company name and that Mr. Kasowitz was listed as a principal of that company; thereafter, he provided such records to the complainant.  There are no other records responsive to the complainant’s request described in paragraph 2f., above.

 

16.  With respect to the request described in paragraph 2g., above, the complainant claimed that the respondent had failed to comply with it because he had not provided her with certain “monthly accounting reports” submitted to the City by JER Revenue Services, LLC on a monthly basis (hereinafter “JER reports”).  The complainant maintained that the JER reports were responsive to her request for “any and all lists of property turned over to JER Revenue Services, LLC”. 

 

17.  It is found that the complainant learned of the existence of the JER reports from the respondent tax collector during a conversation with him on a separate matter in July 2003 and that he provided one of the reports to her at that time; thereafter, the complainant obtained additional monthly reports during the course of the litigation described in paragraph 10, above.

 

18.  The respondents contend that the JER reports were not provided to the complainant in response to her May 12, 2003 request because they were not responsive.  The respondents argue that the JER reports are simply monthly accounting reports and do not represent the list of “all properties” turned over to JER Services, LLC, as requested by the complainant.  Further, the respondents maintain that the list they generated and provided to the complainant is the comprehensive list of “all properties” turned over while the JER reports reflect a refined or revised list of properties, and are not the City’s reports.  Therefore, the respondents did not consider providing such reports to the complainant in response to her request. 

 

19.  Much of the hearing on this matter was spent by the parties to this complaint arguing the points raised in paragraphs 16 though 18, above.  Although the JER reports contain JER Revenue Services, LLC’s list of properties and the tax status of each at the time each report was submitted or prepared, it is found that such reports are, as their name connotes, monthly accounting reports, and as such are not specifically within the scope of the complainant’s request.  It is further found that the respondents’ reasonably assumed that the complainant wanted the list of properties that was generated by the City. 

 

20.  Further, it is found that once the complainant learned of the existence of the JER reports, sometime in July 2003, she could have remedied any confusion and specifically asked the respondents for such records, but she did not.

 

21.  It is therefore found that the respondents complied with that portion of the request described in paragraph 2g., above.

 

22.  With respect to the request described in paragraph 2h., above, concerning any “criteria” utilized by the City to turn over files to JER Revenue Services, LLC, , the complainant maintained at the hearing on this matter that the respondents’ claim that no responsive records exist was false.  The respondents maintained that no detailed, specific criteria exist concerning which properties would be turned over to JER Revenue Services, LLC; rather the City simply turned over all properties on which the payment of tax was delinquent. 

 

23.  In support of her claim described in paragraph 22, above, the complainant stated that during the course of the litigation described in paragraph 10, above, she obtained several memos outlining criteria.  The complainant was ordered to submit such records, to the hearing officer as an after-filed exhibit.  Instead however, the complainant submitted a copy of minutes of the City’s Tax Delinquency Oversight Committee from May 28, 2002, which do not contain any such criteria.  Such minutes merely summarize JER Services’ presentation to the committee concerning how it handles delinquent tax collections.

 

24. It is therefore found, that no records exist that are responsive to the complainant’s request described in paragraph 2g., above.

 

25.  It is found, as evidenced at the hearing, that hostility exists between the parties in this matter, possibly as a result of the litigation described in paragraph 10, above.  That hostility, along with the lack of organization on the part of the complainant in presenting her case, made it difficult for the undersigned hearing officer to obtain the information necessary to render a full and fair decision on this matter.  However, based upon a thorough review of all of the facts and circumstances of this case, it is found that the respondents, through the best efforts of the respondent finance director, complied fully with the complainant’s May 12, 2003 request and did so promptly. 

 

26.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents did not violate the provisions of 1-212(a), G.S., as alleged in the complainant’s June 10, 2003 letter of complaint.  Thus, there is no need to consider the complainant’s request for the imposition of civil penalties.

 

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 May 26, 2004.

 

 

___________________________________

Dolores E. Tarnowski

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:

 

Jennifer M. Ranciato, Esq.

238 Hall Avenue

Wallingford, CT  06492

 

 

City Council, City of West Haven;

Tax Collector, City of West Haven; and

Finance Director, City of West Haven

c/o Henry C. Szadkowski, Esq.

Assistant Corporation Counsel

255 Main Street

West Haven, CT  06516

 

 

___________________________________

Dolores E. Tarnowski

Clerk of the Commission

 

FIC/2003-216/FD/mes/06/02/2004