FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Lawrence Cook and the

Manchester Journal Inquirer,

  Complainants  
  against Docket #FIC 2003-429

Nelson Rodriguez, President,

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission; Bernie Frost,

Vice President, Shaker Pines

Fire District Commission;

Henry Wanczyk Sr., Clerk,

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission; Noella Gatten,

Treasurer, Shaker Pines Fire

District Commission; Margaret

Guyette and Jan Anderson,

Members, Shaker Pines Fire

District Commission; and

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission,

 
  Respondents  August  25, 2004
       

 

            The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 20, 2004, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared and presented testimony and argument on the complaint.  For purposes of hearing, this matter was consolidated with Docket# FIC 2004-183; Jeffrey Cohen and the Hartford Courant v. Raymond Aiken, President, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission; Henry Wanczyk, Secretary, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission; Janice Anderson, Commissioner, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission, Margaret Guyette, Commissioner, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission; and Shaker Pines Fire District Commission.

           

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 of complaint dated and filed with the Commission on December 4, 2003, the complainants alleged that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act with respect to the December 3, 2003, meeting of the respondent commission by discussing a matter in executive session not permissible by law, and by failing to provide notice of the December 3, 2003, meeting.  The complainants requested the imposition of civil penalties against the respondents.  At the hearing in this matter, the complainants also requested that the respondents be required to attend a mandatory FOI workshop.  Further, at the outset of the hearing in this matter, the complainants withdrew the complaint against the respondent Noella Gatten, Treasurer, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission.  Accordingly, the findings and conclusions set forth below do not apply to Ms. Gatten. 

 

3.  It is found that the respondent Nelson Rodriguez, President, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission, resigned from office on December 31, 2003, but that such respondent was in office at the time of the meeting described below. 

 

4.   It is found that the respondents held a special meeting on December 3, 2004 [hereinafter “the meeting”], and that during the meeting the respondents entered executive session [hereinafter “the executive session”].

 

5.  Section 1-225(d), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

“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 [the]…subdivision for any public agency of a political subdivision of the state….” 

 

6.  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….”

 

7.  Section 1-200(6), G.S., defines “executive session” to include:

 

“(A)  Discussion concerning the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health or dismissal of a public officer or employee, provided that such individual may require that discussion be held at an open meeting;  (B)  strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation to which the public agency or a member thereof, because of his conduct as a member of such agency, is a party until such litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled;  (C)  matters concerning security strategy or the deployment of security personnel, or devices affecting public security;  (D)  discussion of the selection of a site or the lease, sale or purchase of real estate by a political subdivision of the state when publicity regarding such site, lease, sale, purchase or construction would cause a likelihood of increased price until such time as all of the property has been acquired or all proceedings or transactions concerning same have been terminated or abandoned; and  (E)  discussion of any matter which would result in the disclosure of public records or the information contained therein described in subsection (b) of section 1-210.”

 

8.  It is found that the respondents did not file notice of the meeting with the town clerk at least twenty-fours hours prior to the meeting.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents violated 1-225(d), G.S., as alleged in the complaint.

 

9.  It is found that, at some point during the meeting, the respondents entered the executive session by a two-thirds vote to discuss the fire chief’s recommendations on how to improve the number of volunteer firefighters.  At the hearing in this matter, the respondents contended that they entered the executive session in order to more freely discuss the various recommendations of the fire chief regarding recruitment, that no action was taken at the executive session, and that recruitment plans were made available to the public during the public portion of the next regularly scheduled meeting. 

 

10.  It is found that the discussion described in paragraph 9, above, was not a discussion concerning any matters set forth in 1-200(6), G.S.

 

11.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated 1-225(a) and 1-200(6), G.S., in this matter, as alleged in the complaint.

 

12.  The Commission takes administrative notice of the records and final decisions in Docket #FIC 2001-350; Richard Guinness and Journal Inquirer v. Shaker Pines Fire District Commission, Town of Enfield [hereinafter Docket #FIC2001-350], and Docket #FIC2001-378; Richard Guinness and Journal Inquirer v. Shaker Pines Fire District Commission, Town of Enfield [hereinafter Docket #FIC2001-378], which also concluded that the respondent commission violated 1-225(a), G.S., by improperly discussing matters in executive session.  The Commission takes particular notice of paragraph 4 of the order in Docket #FIC2001-378, which advised the respondent commission that civil penalties may be imposed for unreasonable FOI violations.  

 

13.  Section 1-206(b)(2), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

“…upon the finding that a denial of any right created by the Freedom of Information Act was without reasonable grounds and after the custodian or other official directly responsible for the denial has been given an opportunity to be heard at a hearing conducted in accordance with sections 4-176e to 4-184, inclusive, the commission may, in its discretion, impose against the custodian or other official a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollars….”

           

 

14.  It is found that the respondents’ denial of the complainants’ rights pursuant to 1-225(a) and 1-200(6), G.S., was without reasonable grounds, especially in light of the previous rulings of the Commission in Docket #FIC 2001-350 and Docket #FIC2001-378.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:


            1.  Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with the provisions of 1- 225(a), 1-200(6), and 1-225(d), G.S.

  

2.   Forthwith, the respondents Nelson Rodriguez, Bernie Frost, Henry Wanczyk Sr., Margaret Guyette and Jan Anderson, as the officials directly responsible for the violation described in paragraph 11 of the findings, above, each shall remit to this Commission a civil penalty in the amount of fifty dollars.

 

3.  Within 60 days of the notice of final decision in this matter, the named respondents against whom the civil penalty was imposed, as described in Paragraph 2 of this order above, with the exception of Nelson Rodriguez who is no longer a member of the respondent commission, shall contact the Commission to schedule an educational workshop to be conducted by a member of the Commission’s staff.

 

4.  The complaint against Noella Gatten, Treasurer, Shaker Pines Fire District Commission, is hereby dismissed.

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of August 25, 2004.

 

 

___________________________________

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:

 

Lawrence Cook and the

Manchester Journal Inquirer

306 Progress Drive

PO Box 510

Manchester, CT 06045-0510

 

Nelson Rodriguez, President,

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission; Bernie Frost,

Vice President, Shaker Pines

Fire District Commission;

Henry Wanczyk Sr., Clerk,

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission; Noella Gatten,

Treasurer, Shaker Pines Fire

District Commission; Margaret

Guyette and Jan Anderson,

Members, Shaker Pines Fire

District Commission; and

Shaker Pines Fire District

Commission

c/o Robert Berger, Esq.

709 Enfield Street

Enfield, CT 06082

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

FIC/2003-429FD/paj/08/30/2004