FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Christopher Jaskiewicz,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-482

Gary Murphy, Chief, Oakdale Fire

Department, Town of Montville;

Wayne Scott, Captain, Oakdale

Fire Department, Town of Montville;

and Board of Officers, Oakdale Fire

Department, Town of Montville,

 
  Respondents October 11, 2005
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 17, 2005, at which time 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), G.S.

 

2.  It is found that the complainant is a member of the respondent fire department and served as Ambulance Chairman for three years.

 

3.  It is found that the complainant was not reappointed to the position of Ambulance Chairman and is trying to determine what transpired at the respondent fire department’s meeting(s) at which the decision not to reappoint him was made.

 

4.  In this regard, it is found that the complainant, by letter dated October 6, 2004, requested that the respondent board provide him with access to the respondent board’s minutes of the September 30 and October 6, 2004 meetings (hereinafter “requested records”).

 

5.    It is found that the respondent captain denied the request on October 6, 2004, indicating at that time that the meetings in question are “officers meetings” and therefore, no minutes are required to be kept.

 

6.  Having failed to receive the requested minutes, the complainant, by letter of complaint dated October 15, 2004, and filed on October 19, 2004, appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by their failure to prepare minutes and denying him access to such minutes.  The complainant requested that the Commission impose a civil penalty in this matter.  At the hearing in this matter, the complainant withdrew such request for a civil penalty.

 

7.  It is found that the requested records do not exist because the respondent board never prepared minutes of the meetings in question.  It is also found that it is the general practice of the respondent board that no record of its Board of Officers’ meetings are kept.

 

 8.  It is further found that the respondents discussed the reappointment issue concerning the complainant at one, and possibly at both, of the meetings in question.

 

9.  The respondents contend that pursuant to 7-314(b), G.S., the respondent board is not obligated to prepare and maintain minutes of meetings at which personnel decisions are made, because such decisions constitute “fraternal or social matters”.

 

10.  Section 7-314(b), G.S., provides that:

 

The records and meetings of a volunteer fire department which is established by municipal charter or constituted as a not-for-profit Connecticut corporation shall not be subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, as defined in section 1-200, if such records and meetings concern fraternal or social matters. Records and meetings concerning matters of public safety, expenditures of public funds or other public business shall be subject to disclosure under said sections.

 

11.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., requires that a public agency “make, keep and maintain a record of the proceedings of its meetings”.

 

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

 

minutes [of a public agency] shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer.

 

13.  It is found that the meetings in question are meetings of a volunteer fire department, within the meaning of 7-314(b), G.S.  However, neither “fraternal” nor “social” is defined in the statute. 

 

14.  In the construction of the statutes, words and phrases must be construed according to their commonly approved usage.  Section 1-1, G.S.

 

15.  The word fraternal is defined as: “[O]f or pertaining to brothers…showing comradeship; brotherly….” The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.  

 

16.  Fraternize is defined as: “[T]o associate with others in a … congenial way…”  “To engage in comradely social intercourse”.   “To be friendly or amiable”.  The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, (1993).

  

17.  Fraternity is defined as: “[T]he quality or state of being brotherly or very friendly….”  Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, (1993).

 

18.   It is found that the discussion of the reappointment to the position of Ambulance Chairman was neither a discussion of a social matter, nor a discussion of a fraternal matter.  It is found that such discussion pertained directly to the core and essential business of the fire department, i.e., protection of life and property, rather than to the social, comradely and congenial activities of such department.   Additionally, it is found that such discussion directly concerned “public safety, expenditure of public funds and public business”, within the meaning of 7-314(b), G.S.

 

19.  Consequently, it is concluded that the respondents violated the FOI Act as alleged in the complaint when they failed to prepare minutes of the discussion concerning the reappointment issue.

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

1.  Forthwith, the respondents shall reconstruct and provide to the complainant minutes of the meetings in question during which the reappointment of the complainant was discussed.  Such minutes shall, at a minimum, be sufficient to adequately apprise the public of how the reappointment issue was addressed.

2.  The Commission takes this opportunity to remind the respondents that discussion of all matters that concern “public safety, expenditures of public funds or other public business”, within the meaning of 7-314(b), G.S., whether occurring at Membership, Board of Directors or Board of Officers meetings, is subject to the FOI Act, and must be conducted accordingly.  

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of October 11, 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:

 

Christopher Jaskiewicz

11 Michigan Circle

Oakdale, CT 06370

 

Gary Murphy, Chief, Oakdale Fire

Department, Town of Montville;

Wayne Scott, Captain, Oakdale

Fire Department, Town of Montville;

and Board of Officers, Oakdale Fire

Department, Town of Montville

c/o John A. Cotter, Esq.

Cotter, Greenfield, Manfredi & Lenes, PC

223 West Town Street

Norwich, CT 06360

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-482FD/paj/10/12/2005