OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|against||Docket #FIC 2004-038|
Board of Selectmen,
Town of New Fairfield,
|Respondent||November 10, 2004|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 26, 2004, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. For purposes of hearing, this matter was consolidated with Docket #FIC 2004-009; Victor Boronkay v. Board of Selectmen, Town of New Fairfield.
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. It is found that, on December 24, 2003, the local New Fairfield weekly newspaper was published and contained an article, which reported that the town counsel had submitted a November 25, 2003, letter to the first selectman of New Fairfield regarding a controversy surrounding the payment of fees to such counsel. It is further found that the complainant subsequently obtained a copy of such letter, and that such letter states in relevant part that, at the end of August, 2003, “with the first selectman’s (as well as Selectman McKeon’s) express consent, we set up a new billing matter entitled “Municipal Water Supply Issues” with the understanding that the work on this matter would not be directly related to the Shaw’s agreement but to other issues raised by Townspeople.”
3. It is found that, based upon the letter described in paragraph 2, above, the complainant filed the complaint in this matter, as set forth in paragraph 4, below.
4. By letter dated January 20, 2004, and filed with the Commission on January 22, 2004, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act by conducting an illegal meeting when it changed or shifted policy regarding town counsel’s billing practices, in a meeting outside the public view.
5. 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 [FOI] Act may appeal therefrom to the [FOI] 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….
6. It is found that the complainant had notice in fact of the alleged late August 2003 meeting within thirty days of the filing of the complaint in this matter. Accordingly, it is concluded that the Commission has subject matter jurisdiction to address the allegation set forth in the complaint.
7. 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.”
8. 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….”
9. It is found that, on August 27, 2003, the respondent conducted a special meeting on the controversial topic of the New Fairfield Water System, and that during such meeting, several town residents asked if they could contact town counsel with questions. It is further found that, after the special meeting closed, the first selectman met in her office with two attorneys representing the town to discuss how the town would be billed for services rendered by such attorneys to town residents, and that, during such meeting, the first selectman agreed to set up a new billing matter entitled “Municipal Water Supply Issues.”
10. It is found that, after the conclusion of the meeting described in paragraph 9, above, the attorneys and the first selectman were leaving her office and they encountered Selectman McKeon, who was in the outer office picking up his mail. It is found that, at such time, the first selectman informed Mr. McKeon that she had agreed to set up a separate billing matter with the attorneys as described herein. It is also found that Mr. McKeon thereupon replied, “oh, OK,” or words to that effect, and that such was the extent of Mr. McKeon’s participation in the events surrounding the separate billing practice on August 27, 2003.
11. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant contended that the conversation described in paragraph 10, above, constituted an assembly of a quorum of the respondent to discuss or act upon a matter over which the respondent has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power, within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S. The respondent contended that such conversation was a chance meeting neither planned nor intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to official business.
12. It is found that Mr. McKeon did not participate in the decision to approve a separate billing matter between the town and its attorneys on August 27, 2003. It is found that the conversation described in paragraph 10, above, consisted of a brief exchange wherein the first selectman informed Mr. McKeon about a decision which she had already made, and received a two-word reply. It is found that such conversation did not constitute a discussion of a matter over which the respondent has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power, within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S. It is further found that such conversation constituted a chance meeting neither planned nor intended for the purpose of discussing matters relating to official business, within the meaning §1-200(2), G.S.
13. It is concluded that the Commission does not have jurisdiction to address the authority of the first selectman to enter into the agreement described in paragraph 9, above, or the manner in which the public was informed about such agreement, issues which were raised by the complainant at the hearing in this matter.
14. It is concluded that the conversation described in paragraph 10, above, was not a “meeting” within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S., and that therefore, the respondent did not violate §1-225(a), G.S., 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 November 10, 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:
c/o Thomas W. Beecher, Esq.
148 Deer Hill Avenue
PO Box 440
Danbury, CT 06813-0440
Board of Selectmen,
Town of New Fairfield
Four Brush Hill Road
New Fairfield, CT 06812
Petrea A. Jones
Acting Clerk of the Commission