FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Denis O’Sullivan,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-511

District Commission, Watertown Fire District,

Town of Watertown,

 
  Respondent July 27, 2005
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 9, 2005, 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 November 10, 2004, and filed on November 12, 2004, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by convening in executive session on October 12, 2004 for the purpose of discussing “potential litigation”.  The complainant requested that the respondent be required to attend an FOI Act training session.

 

3.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part:

 

The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public.

 

4.  Section 1-200(6), G.S., in relevant part, provides:

 

(6)  “Executive sessions” means a meeting of a public agency at which the public is excluded for one or more of the following purposes: …(B)  strategy and negotiations with respect to pending claims or pending litigation to which the public agency or a member thereof, because of the member’s conduct as a member of such agency, is a party until such litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.    

 

5.  Section 1-225(f), G.S., further provides:

 

A public agency may hold an executive session as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, upon an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of such body present and voting, taken at a public meeting and stating the reasons for such executive session, as defined in section 1-200.  [Emphasis added].

 

6.  It is found that the respondent held a meeting on October 12, 2004, during which the respondent convened in executive session.

 

7.  It is found that the respondent’s agenda for the October 12, 2004 meeting indicated the following, in relevant part:

 

4.  Executive session for discussion of matters of litigation, negotiation and/or personnel.

 

8.  It is found that the respondent’s minutes of the October 12, 2004 meeting reflect that prior to convening in the executive session the complainant “asked if there is any dispute with the Town regarding sewer flows.  Mr. Minicucci [the respondent’s chairman] said that any potential dispute is a legal matter and would not comment.  Mr. Minicucci also noted that this may be a topic for executive session.”

 

9.  It is found that while a discussion of strategy and negotiations with respect to “pending claims” and “pending litigation” are appropriate for executive session, the information provided by the respondent’s chairman at the meeting, as described in paragraph 8 above, coupled with the agenda item description, as described in paragraph 7, above, did not state the reason for the October 12, 2004 executive session, within the meaning of 1-200(6)(A) and 1-225(f), G.S.   

 

 10.  It is found that during the October 12, 2004 executive session the respondent discussed, as described in its minutes “matters of potential litigation”.  At the hearing in this matter, the respondent confirmed that during the executive session in question it discussed potential litigation regarding sewer flows.

 

11.  This Commission has repeatedly stated that in order for the public to be adequately apprised of the reason for an executive session, the public agency must give some indication of the specific topic to be addressed, prior to convening such session.  Therefore, descriptions such as “matters of litigation, negotiation and/or personnel” and “matters of potential litigation”are inadequate and do not state the reason, within the meaning of 1-225(f), G.S.

 

12.  It is concluded that prior to convening in executive session, the respondent failed to state the reason for the executive session held on October 12, 2004, within the meaning of 1-225(f), G.S., and therefore violated such provision.

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

1.  Forthwith, the members of the respondent shall attend an FOI Act training session to be conducted by staff of the FOI Commission.  The chairman of the respondent, or his designee, shall forthwith, contact the FOI Commission’s staff to schedule such training session.  

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 27, 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:

 

Denis O’Sullivan

238 North Street

Watertown, CT 06795

 

District Commission,

Watertown Fire District,

Town of Watertown

c/o Franklin G. Pilicy, Esq.

365 Main Street

PO Box 760

Watertown, CT 06795

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-511FD/paj/7/28/2005