FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Rachel Gottlieb and

the Hartford Courant,

 
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-520

Robert Henry, Superintendent of

Schools, Hartford Public Schools;

Gail P. Johnson, Executive Director,

Department of Human Resources,

Hartford Public Schools; and Jill

Cutler Hodgman, Labor Relations

Manager, Department of Human

Resources, Hartford Public Schools,

 
  Respondents October 26, 2005
       

           

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 15, 2005, at which time the complainants and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S.

 

            2.  It is found that, during 2004, the complainants made numerous verbal requests for a list of all cell telephone numbers assigned to district employees.  It is further found that such list is the requested record at issue herein. 

 

3.  It is further found that, by letter dated November 9, 2004, the respondents denied the complainants’ requests, as described in paragraph 2, above. 

 

4.  By letter dated and filed with the Commission on November 17, 2004, the complainants appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act by denying them a copy of the requested record.  The complainants seek the imposition of civil penalties against the respondents. 

 

5.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that

 

“[e]xcept 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…receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212…."  

 

6.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that “[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.” 

 

            7.  It is found that the respondents keep on file the requested record, and that it consists of the cell telephone numbers of approximately 85 administrators in the Hartford Public School System.  It is further found that such cell telephones are paid for with public funds and are distributed to certain key officials for urgent or emergency communication when such officials are not available through the office landlines.  It is also found that increased incoming calls to the cell telephones described herein could lead to increased costs attributed to the Hartford Public Schools. 

 

            8.   It is found that the requested record is a public record within the meaning of 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S.

 

            9.   At the hearing in this matter and on brief, the respondents contended that releasing the requested record would lead to abuse of the cell telephone numbers in that reporters, parents, students, and anyone interested, could request and receive the requested record, giving such persons unfettered access at all times of day and night to the staff members assigned the cell telephones, thus rendering the telephones ineffective in that staff members would not keep them on.  The respondents also contended that releasing the requested record would lead to additional costs to the respondents.  However, it is found that such contentions are unfounded, and based completely on the respondents’ speculations.  Moreover, it is concluded that such contentions are not claimed exemptions under the FOI Act, and therefore cannot suffice to exempt the requested record from mandatory disclosure.    

 

10.  At the hearing in this matter and on brief, the respondents contended that the complainants already have access to staff members of the respondent through landlines, voice mail, and leaving messages with receptionists.  Additionally, the respondents contended that the complainants already know cell telephone numbers of certain high officials which numbers were given to them by such officials, including the cell telephone number of the press officer of the respondents, therefore providing the complainants with adequate ability to reach officials of the Hartford Public Schools.  The respondents contended that the complainants seek the requested record merely to make writing newspaper articles more convenient, and the FOI Act does not require that the respondents do so.  However, in keeping with long-standing Commission precedent, the reasons that a requester seeks a record are irrelevant to the question of whether a record is exempt under the FOI Act.  Moreover, it is concluded that such contentions are not claimed exemptions under the FOI Act, and therefore cannot suffice to exempt the requested record from mandatory disclosure. 

 

11.  At the hearing in this matter and on brief, the respondents contended that the  requested record does not shed light on government, and therefore its release is not in keeping with the spirit of the FOI Act.  However, it is clearly concluded that the requested record is a public record under 1-210(a), G.S., and thus within the jurisdiction of the Commission.

 

12.  On brief, the respondents contended, that, although “no specific statutory exemption precisely exempts cellular telephone numbers from public disclosure, it is easy to see that a conclusion that these numbers must be made public will quickly wreak havoc on governmental operations at all levels.”  Clearly, such unsupported conjecture cannot suffice to exempt public records from mandatory disclosure under the FOI Act. 

 

13.  Although conceding that no exemption precisely applies, the respondents also ask the Commission to consider applying 1-210(b)(5), G.S., and 1-210(b)(2), G.S., to the requested record.  No evidence was presented at the hearing in this matter with respect to either exemption. 

 

14.  Section 1-210(b)(5), G.S., exempts from mandatory disclosure:  

 

“(A) Trade secrets, which for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, are defined as information, including formulas, patterns, compilations, programs, devices, methods, techniques, processes, drawings, cost data, or customer lists that (i) derive independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from their disclosure or use, and (ii) are the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain secrecy; and

 

(B) commercial or financial information given in confidence, not required by statute”

 

15.  Section 1-210(b)(2), G.S., exempts from mandatory disclosure “[p]ersonnel or medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.”

 

16.  It is found that the requested record, a list of publicly funded cell telephone numbers assigned to public employees, is not a trade secret within the meaning 1-210(b)(5), G.S., nor is it a personnel, medical, or similar file, within the meaning of 1-210(b)(2), G.S.

 

17.  It is concluded that the respondents failed to prove the applicability of 1-210(b)(5), G.S., or 1-210(b)(2), G.S., to the requested record.   It is further concluded that the respondents violated 1-210(a), G.S., as alleged in the complaint. 

           

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

 

“…upon 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….”

 

19.  It is found that the respondents’ denial of the complainants’ rights, as described herein, was without reasonable grounds, but, the Commission declines to impose civil penalties under the facts and circumstances of this case. 

 

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 provide the complainants with a copy of the requested records at no cost. 

           

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of October 26, 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:

 

Rachel Gottlieb and

the Hartford Courant

285 Broad Street

Hartford, CT 06115

 

Robert Henry, Superintendent of

Schools, Hartford Public Schools;

Gail P. Johnson, Executive Director,

Department of Human Resources,

Hartford Public Schools; and Jill

Cutler Hodgman, Labor Relations

Manager, Department of Human

Resources, Hartford Public Schools

c/o Ann F. Bird, Esq.

Assistant Corporation Counsel

550 Main Street

Hartford, CT 06103

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-520FD/paj/10/28/2005