FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Karen Emerick,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2003-447

Board of Education,

Glastonbury Public Schools,

 
  Respondent  October 13, 2004
       

           

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 13, 2003, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  This matter was consolidated for hearing with docket #FIC 2003-448 Robert Marchand v. Board of Education, Glastonbury Public Schools.

 

            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 received and filed December 16, 2003, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying prompt access to public records, and by not maintaining public records in an accessible location.

 

3.  It is found that the complainant, together with a group of Glastonbury residents researching financial records at the respondent’s offices, had a regular appointment each Monday morning at 11:00 a.m. to inspect purchase orders and related records. 

 

4.  It is found that the complainant arrived early at 10:15 a.m. on November 24, 2003 to inspect the minutes of Board of Education meetings.

 

5.  It is found that the administrative assistant who would usually respond to such requests was not in the respondent’s offices at the time.

 

6.  It is found that, ten minutes after her request, an employee of the respondent provided the complainant with the minutes of the previous meeting.

 

7.  It is found that the complainant then informed the respondent’s employee that she was seeking the minutes from 1999 to the present, not just the minutes of the previous meeting.

 

8.  It is found that the employee sought the assistance of the superintendent, who was in a meeting at the time.

 

9.  It is found that a working set of the Board of Education’s minutes are kept in a locked file cabinet, but that the employee was not able immediately to locate them.

 

10.  It is found that, at approximately 10:30 a.m., the superintendent, who was still in a meeting at the time, came downstairs and asked the complainant to wait until 11:00 a.m.

 

11.  It is found that the superintendent brought the minutes downstairs at approximately 11:05 a.m., but that the complainant, who had an 11:00 a.m. meeting with the other members of her research team, then refused them.

 

12.  Section 1-200(5), G.S., provides:

 

    “Public records or files” means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.

 

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

 

    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….  Each such agency shall keep and maintain all public records in its custody at its regular office or place of business in an accessible place ….

 

14.  It is concluded that the requested minutes are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a), G.S.

 

15.  It is found that the minutes, although not immediately provided to the complainant, were maintained in an accessible place.

 

16.  The complainant maintains that her simple request for minutes of meetings from 1999 to the date of her request should have been met immediately.

 

17.  The respondent maintains that in general minutes should be made promptly available, but that in this instance a fifty minute delay was reasonable under the circumstances.

 

18.  The meaning of the word “promptly” is a particularly fact-based question that has been previously addressed by the FOI Commission.  In Advisory Opinion #51, In the Matter of a Request for Declaratory Ruling, Third Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, Applicant (Notice of Final Decision dated January 11, 1982) the Commission advised that the word “promptly” as used in 1-210(a), G.S., means quickly and without undue delay, taking into consideration all of the factors presented by a particular request.  The Commission also gave the following guidance:

 

The Commission believes that timely access to public records by persons seeking them is a fundamental right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act.  Providing such access is therefore as much a part of their mission as their other major functions.  Although each agency must determine its own set of priorities in dealing with its responsibilities within its limited resources, providing access to public records should be considered as one such priority.  Thus, it should take precedence over routine work that has no immediate or pressing deadline.

 

19.  The advisory opinion goes on to describe some of the factors that should be considered in weighing a request for records against other priorities:  the volume of records requested; the time and personnel required to comply with a request; the time by which the person requesting records needs them; the time constraints under which the agency must complete its other work; the importance of the records to the requester, if ascertainable; and the importance to the public of completing the other agency business without the loss of the personnel time involved in complying with the request.    

 

20.  It is found that the volume of records requested, several years of minutes, was substantial, although all the records were located in notebooks in a single location.

 

21.  It is found that the time needed to comply with the request was minimal, but that the administrative assistant who would ordinarily  comply with the request was not available at the moment of the complainant’s request, and the superintendent was engaged in a meeting.

 

22.  It is found that the complainant communicated that she wanted the records without delay, but offered no evidence at the hearing as to why receipt of the records after fifty minutes did not satisfy her needs.  No evidence was offered concerning the importance of the records to the complainant.

 

23.  While the Advisory Opinion #51 suggests that access to records should take precedence over “routine work that has no immediate or pressing deadline,” the respondent offered no evidence concerning the meeting that the superintendent was engaged in, other than to say that it was a “closed door” meeting.  No evidence was offered concerning the importance to the public of completing the respondent’s other business without the loss of the personnel time involved in complying with the request.

 

24.  Although the factors surrounding the complainant’s request give some support to each party’s position, it is found under the facts and circumstances of this case that it was reasonable that the respondent could not immediately locate minutes that were more than four years old, and that the superintendent should not reasonably have been expected to abandon her meeting in order to immediately accommodate the complainant.  Moreover, the complainant, although maintaining in principle that minutes should be available immediately, did not offer evidence in support of an immediate need for the minutes under the circumstances of this case.

 

25.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondent did not violate 1-210(a), G.S.

 

 

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

 

            1.  The complaint is dismissed.

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of October 13, 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:

 

                    Karen Emerick

175 Coldbrook Road

South Glastonbury, CT 06073

 

Board of Education

Glastonbury Public Schools

c/o Christine L. Chinni, Esq.

Shipman & Goodwin LLP

One Constitution Plaza

Hartford, CT 06103-1919

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2003-447FD/paj/10/15/2004