FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Jeffrey Cohen and the Hartford

Courant,

  Complainants  
  against Docket# FIC 2004-183

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,

 
  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 2003-429; Lawrence Cook and the Manchester Journal Inquirer v. 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.

 

            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 April 14, 2004, and filed with the Commission on April 15, 2004, the complainants alleged that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act with respect to the April 12, 2004, meeting of the respondent commission by not opening such meeting to the public, by failing to provide notice of such meeting, and by failing to maintain minutes of such meeting.  The complainants requested the imposition of civil penalties against the respondents and that the respondents be required to attend a mandatory FOI workshop.  

 

3.  It is found that the respondents held a special meeting on April 12, 2004 [hereinafter “the meeting”], and that the public was excluded from the meeting. 

 

4.  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….” 

 

            5.  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…. The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection within forty-eight hours and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken, which minutes shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer.”

 

6.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part: “…Each [public] agency shall make, keep and maintain a record of the proceedings of its meetings.”

 

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, during the meeting, the respondents discussed the upcoming budget.  At the hearing in this matter, the respondents contended that they wished to freely discuss budget issues, and that no action was taken at the 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.  It is found that no minutes are available with respect to the meeting.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents violated 1-225(a) and 1-210(a), G.S., as alleged in the complaint.

 

13.  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 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.  

 

14.  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….”

           

 

15.  It is found that the respondents’ denial of the complainants’ rights pursuant to 1-225(a), 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), 1-225(d), and 1-210(a), G.S.  

 

2.  Forthwith, the respondents Raymond Aiken, Henry Wanczyk, Janice

Anderson, and Margaret Guyette, 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. 

 

 

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:

 

Jeffrey Cohen and the Hartford

Courant 

101 Phoenix Avenue

Enfield, CT 06082

 

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

c/o Robert Berger, Esq.

709 Enfield Street

Enfield, CT 06082

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

FIC/2004-183/FD/paj/08/26/2004