FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
James Wysocki,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-301

Town Planner, Town of Somers; and

Chairman, Planning Commission, Town of Somers,

 
  Respondents  January 12, 2005
       

                                                                                               

 

            The above-captioned matter was consolidated for hearing with Docket # 2004-211, 2004-214, 2004-265 and Docket # 2004-302. It was heard as a contested case on September 14, 2004 and November 4, 2004, at which times the complainant and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S.

 

2.  By at least twenty-one letters dated from May 27, 2004 to June 23, 2004, the complainant made a vast array of requests to the respondents for information and copies of records relating to land use planning and zoning in the Town of Somers. At the November 4, 2004 hearing, the complainant testified that verbal requests supplemented these request letters, and in this regard, introduced an exhibit of twenty-seven listed requests.

 

3.  By various letters, including letters dated June 8 and June 9, 2004, the respondent town planner directed the complainant to the appropriate agency of the town for various records, indicating that the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) did not require her to do research. On July 21, 2004, the town counsel sent the complainant a letter of more than three pages, including ten numbered paragraphs, responding to the complainant’s various requests. With reference to some items, the town counsel referred the complainant to town agencies other than the respondents so the complainant could “review” various records.

 

4.  By letter dated and filed with the Freedom of Information Commission (“Commission”) on July 8, 2004, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents refused complainant’s request for records and “construct[ed] a stonewall approach” by “hiding behind the vale of ‘not required to do research’”. The complaint included ten letters as attachments. By way of example concerning the vast scope of complainant’s requests, just one of these attached letters, complainant’s June 3, 2004 letter to the respondent Town Planner, included fourteen numbered questions or requests, along with other non-numbered requests. The records requested in the ten letters attached to the complaint, together with the twenty-seven listed verbal requests referenced in paragraph 2, above, constitute “the requested records” or sometimes “the records” subsequently referred to herein.

 

5.  It is found that many of complainant’s requests were expressly framed as requests for information. By way of example, another of complainant’s letters dated June 3, 2004 stated: “I am requesting the following information from your office…Please explain to me why the town is interested in acquiring property on the above application?”

 

6.  It is also found that satisfaction of many of complainant’s requests would have required that a trained professional do research. By way of example, one of complainant’s letters dated June 6, 2004 asked for “all information pertaining to budget allowances for each year for…planning and construction of trails”. The town counsel’s July 21, 2004 letter responded to this and other similar budgetary requests with an offer that complainant would be permitted to inspect the adopted budgets, but also a statement that the specific information sought “may require you to review all Town expenditures for a given year”. At the November 4, 2004 hearing, complainant stated that he did not wish to review the town’s cancelled checks.

 

7.  It is also found that the respondents did not react at every moment with unrestrained enthusiasm to the complainant’s blizzard of requests. Indeed, complainant is probably correct that the respondents may have been grudging at times, in a manner that can inhibit prompt access to records. It is also possible that some minutes of the Planning Commission were not timely filed, although complainant did not introduce specific evidence in this regard.

 

8.  In some other dockets where this Commission has reviewed the response of public agencies to vast, unwieldy requests for records, other town governments have “failed to provide any response whatsoever, and essentially ignored, the complainant’s requests.” Holly J. Blinkoff v. Mayor, City of Torrington et al., Docket #FIC 2000-615, paragraph 44.

 

9.  However herein, it is found that the respondents did, in fact, provide the complainant with records where a specific records request could be identified. For example, the complainant was provided, pursuant to his request, with all the records of the Open Space/Trails Subcommittee of the Planning Commission.

 

10.  It is also found that a detailed review at the November 4, 2004 hearing of the requests that the complainant identified as the most significant did not reveal any public records withheld from the complainant, with the possible exception of four or five maps which may not have existed at the time of the request and which the respondent chairman created and stored on his home computer. At the hearing, the complainant introduced a sixteen page exhibit detailing many aspects of the “map issue”, and the respondent chairman agreed to furnish the four or five maps to the complainant on or about November 10, 2004.   

 

11.  It is also found that the complainant is a layperson, without previous experience with the FOIA, or with the detailed workings of municipal government. A primary function of this Commission is to assist laypersons in their efforts to learn about their government through access to records and meetings. But it is also found that, in the midst of a local land use dispute, the complainant was not eager to learn basic principles of the FOIA, and indeed, the complainant did not facilitate easy communication with the respondents. At times, his complaint to this Commission was that he believed that the respondents should have certain records. An example in this regard is the transcript of the June 24, 2004 hearing of the Planning Commission, which the complainant requested in his June 30, 2004 letter to the respondent chairman. The respondents stated in writing to complainant and under oath at the November 4, 2004 hearing that they did not and do not have this transcript in their custody and control. Because no transcript had been created, the complainant was provided with a copy of the tape recording of the relevant meeting.

 

12.  The respondents have not claimed a violation of 1-206(b)(2), G.S., concerning complaints filed “frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing….”. On the record to date, it is concluded that complainant did have a good faith interest in reviewing records, which he hoped would help him defeat a land use proposal before the Planning Commission.

 

13.  However, it is also concluded that, while the four or five maps discussed at paragraph 10, above, are public records, there was no specific evidence that respondents declined to disclose requested records in violation of 1-210(a), G.S.

 

14.  In view of the totality of the requests made in the single month of June 2004, it is finally concluded that the respondents did not violate FOIA promptness requirements. In fairness, the context of a massive request must be weighed in the evaluation of the promptness of each specific response. Stated in another way, even the ideal municipal agency, in terms of efficiency and public spirit, would have staggered initially under the weight of complainant’s requests.

 

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

 

1.      The complaint is hereby dismissed.

 

2.  The Commission suggests that, if the complainant intends to make broad FOIA requests in the future, he should seek guidance by telephone from the FOIA staff. If the complainant makes such requests in the future, the Commission further suggests that the respondents and other town officials designate a specific public official to compile a written inventory of records requested, records provided, and records not maintained in the agencies of the town.

           

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 12, 2005.

 

________________________________

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:

 

James Wysocki

62 Eaglebrook Drive

Somers, CT 06071

 

Town Planner, Town of Somers; and

Chairman, Planning Commission, Town of Somers

c/o Carl T. Landolina, Esq.

Fahey, Landolina & Associates, LLC

487 Spring Street

Suite Two

Windsor Locks, CT 06096

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-301FD/paj/1/18/2005