FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Denis O’Sullivan,  
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-139
Tax Assessor, Town of Watertown,  
  Respondents  December 15, 2004
       

  

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 30, 2004, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. 

 

            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 of complaint dated March 23, 2004, and filed on March 24, 2004, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying him reasonable access to public records and more specifically by:

 

a)      denying him a copy of the portion of a binder he sought and insisting that he could only be provided with a copy of the entire binder;

b)      charging him a copy fee of $1.00 per page; and

c)      failing to provide adequate facilities where the complainant could inspect the binder.

 

3.  It is found that on March 4, 2004, the complainant visited the respondent’s office and at that time reviewed the property field card concerning his property.

 

4.  It is found that the field card contained certain coded information, which the complainant inquired of the respondent as to the meaning.

 

5.  It is found that the respondent provided the complainant with an approximately two hundred-page binder that contained highly technical data concerning the interpretation of the coded information contained on the field card.  It is found that the complainant asked the respondent for the specific binder pages that would explain the codes contained on the field card.  The respondent indicated that she was not aware of the specific pages that would be responsive to his request, and suggested that in order for him to get a full understanding of the coded information he review and copy the entire binder.  The respondent informed the complainant further that she would only provide a copy of the entire contents of the binder and not selective pages, and that the copying fee would be $1.00 per page.

 

6.  It is also found that the complainant asked the respondent if he could be provided with an alternate location with adequate lighting where he could review the binder other than the front desk area of the respondent’s office, where the complainant would have to stand in order to conduct such review.  It is found that the complainant further asked the respondent if a copy of the binder could be made available at a more accessible location such as at the public library.  The respondent denied these requests.  The complainant then asked the respondent to confer with another town official to try to resolve their differences.  The respondent promised to seek permission from the Town Manager to speak to the Town Attorney.

 

7.  It is found that on March 12 and 15, 2004 the complainant followed-up with the respondent to inquire if the respondent had consulted with the Town Attorney to receive guidance on the issues they disagreed on.  It is found that on March 15, 2004 the respondent indicated to the complainant that she had not heard back from either the Town Manager or the Town Attorney.

 

8.  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.

 

9.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., further 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 …or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212.  Any agency rule or regulation, or part thereof, that conflicts with the provisions of this subsection or diminishes or curtails in any way the rights granted by this subsection shall be void.  Each such agency shall keep and maintain all public records in its custody at its regular office or place of business in an accessible ….

10.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., further provides, in relevant part:

Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.  The fee for any copy provided in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act: …

(2)  By …[municipal] public agencies, as defined in section 1-200, shall not exceed fifty cents per page…. 

11.  It is concluded that the binder at issue is a public record within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a), G.S.

12.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2a, above, it is found that the complainant is entitled, and the respondent is obligated, to provide a copy of only those specific pages contained in the binder that the complainant requests.

13.  It is concluded that to the extent the respondent denied the complainant a copy of specific pages of records, and insisted that the complainant accept the entire contents of the binder, the respondent violated 1-210(a), G.S.

14.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2b, above, it is found that the respondent is permitted to charge the complainant a copy fee of up to, but no more than, fifty cents per page.  At the hearing in this matter, the respondent explained  that what she meant when she told the complainant $1.00 per page, is really fifty cents per side for a double-sided page, and that she was mistaken in her belief that the binder contained print on both sides of each page.  The respondent explained further that when she realized her mistake she followed up with the complainant and told him the appropriate charge would be fifty cents per page.

15.  It is therefore concluded that the respondent did not violate 1-212(a), G.S.

16.  The complainant contends further that he should be allowed to take the binder to Sir Speedy Printing, where he can have such binder copied for approximately $15.00, instead of having to pay fifty-cents per page for two hundred pages. 

17.  It is found that the respondent, who is the public agency official responsible for maintaining the binder securely, and ensuring its integrity, is under no obligation pursuant to the FOI Act to permit the complainant to take the binder from the respondent’s offices for copying at another location.

  18.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2c, above, it is found that the front desk area, offered by the respondent for review of the binder, is the location designated for the public to conduct such review and inspection of documents.

19.  It is found that the area that houses the respondent’s offices is quite cramped in general.

20.   It is also found that the lighting in the front desk area designated for the public’s review of documents is no worse than in any other area of the respondent’s offices.

21.  The complainant contends that other rooms within the respondent’s offices could be utilized for inspection of documents by the public, and further that as an alternative solution, the respondent could forward a copy of the binder to the public library, which presumably has more space and is a more comfortable environment for reviewing documents.

22.  It is found that the respondent ultimately arranged for a chair so that the complainant could sit while he conducted his review.  However, the complainant left without conducting such review.

23.  It is concluded, under the facts and circumstances of this case, that by providing the designated front desk area, described in paragraph 18, above, for review of the binder in question, the respondent did not violate any provision of the FOI Act. 

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

 

1.  Forthwith, the respondent shall permit the complainant to obtain a copy of those specific pages of the binder he desires, at no more than fifty cents per page.

 

2.  Although not obligated by the FOI Act to forward a copy of the binder at issue to the public library, the Commission notes that such a suggestion is worthwhile and worthy of reconsideration by the respondent in keeping with the spirit of the FOI Act, and particularly since the binder does not contain information that would be exempt from public disclosure.

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of December 15, 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:

 

Denis O’Sullivan

238 North Street

Watertown, CT 06795

 

Tax Assessor, Town of Watertown

c/o Paul R. Jessell, Esq.

PO Box 9

Watertown, CT 06795

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-139FD/paj/12/16/2004