FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Robert Z. Crnic,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-548

EMS Advisory Committee,

Town of Bethel,

 
  Respondent July 13, 2005
       

            

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 9, 2005, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts 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 filed December 8, 2004, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to post an agenda for its November 4, November 17 and November 30, 2004 meetings; failing to timely file the minutes for the November 4, 2004 meeting; prohibiting the complainant from making an audio recording of the November 30, 2004 meeting; and by preventing a third party from making an audio recording of either the November 4 or November 17, 2004 meetings.

 

3.  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 such subdivision for any public agency of a political subdivision of the state ….  The secretary or clerk shall cause any notice received under this section to be posted in his office.  Such notice shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of the special meeting…. 

4.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that the minutes of the meetings of public agencies “shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer.”

 

5.  Section 1-226(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

    At any meeting of a public agency which is open to the public, pursuant to the provisions of section 1-225, proceedings of such public agency may be recorded, photographed, broadcast or recorded for broadcast, subject to such rules as such public agency may have prescribed prior to such meeting, by any person or by any newspaper, radio broadcasting company or television broadcasting company. …

 

6.  It is found, by stipulation of the parties, that the respondent did not file notices of its November 4, November 17, or November 30, 2004 special meetings.

 

7.  It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-225(d), G.S., by failing to file notices of its November 4, November 17, and November 30, 2004 special meetings at least twenty-four hours prior to those meetings.

 

8.  It is found, by stipulation of the parties, that the minutes of the respondent’s November 11, 2004 meeting were not available for public inspection until November 23, 2004.

 

9.  It is concluded that the respondent violated 1-225(a), G.S., by failing to make the minutes of its November 11, 2004 meeting available for public inspection within seven days of that meeting.

 

10.  It is found  that a third-party, Sherri Roscetti, was prohibited from tape-recording the respondent’s November 4, 2004 meeting.

 

11.  The respondent maintains that Ms. Roscetti must make her own complaint, and having failed to do so within thirty days of the meeting, the complainant should not himself be permitted to raise a claim of any violation of Ms. Roscetti’s rights under the FOI Act.

 

12.  Section 1-206(b)(1), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

    Any 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 Freedom of Information Act may appeal therefrom to the Freedom of Information Commission, by filing a notice of appeal with said commission.

13.  It is concluded that the complainant himself was not denied any right conferred by the FOI Act by the respondent’s prohibiting Ms. Roscetti from recording the November 4, 2004 meeting.

 

14.  It is therefore concluded that the complainant lacks standing to bring a complaint to the Commission alleging that Ms. Roscetti was denied rights conferred by the FOI Act.

 

15.  It is also found that the complainant himself began to record the respondent’s subsequent November 30, 2004 meeting.

 

16.  It is found that the First Selectman, a member of the respondent, told the complainant he would not be permitted to use a recording device.

 

17.  It is found that the respondent then immediately adjourned the meeting in order to consult with counsel.

 

18.  The respondent maintains that it did not violate 1-226(a), G.S., because, after the complainant began recording the meeting, the respondent adjourned, and consequently there was no meeting for the complainant to record.

 

19.  It is concluded that the respondent technically did not violate 1-226(a), G.S., because the complainant recorded the short portion of the meeting before the respondent adjourned, and there was no public meeting for the complainant to record following adjournment.

 

20.  However, the respondent acknowledges, after consulting with its counsel, that it must in the future permit the recording of public meetings pursuant to 1-226(a), G.S.

 

21.  At the hearing, the complainant requested the imposition of the maximum civil penalty against First Selectman Alice Hutchinson.

 

22.  Section 1-206(b)(2), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

[U]pon 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. 

 

23.  It is found that the First Selectman was the official directly responsible for the denial of the complainant’s rights under the FOI Act.

24.  It is also found that the First Selectman was not given an opportunity to be heard, as she was not named as a party to this case.

 

25.  At the hearing, the complainant requested that the Commission take notice of subsequent complaints that have been filed against the First Selectman, as evidence of denials of rights under the FOI Act without reasonable grounds.

 

26.  However, the Commission declines in this case to draw any inference from the filing of subsequent complaints that have not been heard.

 

27.  Given the respondent’s assurances that it will comply with the applicable provisions of the FOI Act in the future, and the representations by counsel that the respondent has arranged for a representative of the FOI Commission to conduct an educational session on June 9, 2005, the Commission in its discretion declines to conduct an additional hearing to determine whether the First Selectman denied the complainant’s rights under the FOI Act without reasonable grounds, and whether to impose a civil penalty against her.

 

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

 

            1.  Henceforth the respondent shall strictly comply with the notice and minutes requirements contained in 1-225(a) and (d), G.S., and permit recording of its public meetings as provided by 1-226(a), G.S.

 

            2.  The First Selectman is strongly encouraged to attend the June 9, 2005 educational workshop.

 

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

 

Robert Z. Crnic

45 Old Hawleyville Road

Bethel, CT 06801

 

EMS Advisory Committee,

Town of Bethel

c/o Martin J. Lawlor, Jr., Esq.

99 Greenwood Avenue

Bethel, CT 06801

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-548FD/paj/7/19/2005