FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Erica L. Wardle,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2004-529

Annemarie Mistretta, Interim

Superintendent of Schools,

Manchester Public Schools;

Thomas Robinson, Chairman,

Board of Education, Manchester

Public Schools; Margaret Hackett,

Secretary, Board of Education,

Manchester Public Schools;

and Board of Education,

Manchester Public Schools,

 
  Respondents November 9, 2005
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 23, 2005, at which time the complainant 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 respondent board is a public agency within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.  By letter dated November 17, 2004, and filed with the Commission on November 22, 2004, the complainant alleged that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information [hereinafter “FOI”] Act by:

 

a) considering an item at an October 25, 2004, meeting of the respondent board without adding such item by two-thirds vote to the agenda for such meeting;

 

b) failing to accurately explain the agenda item described in paragraph 2.a, above;

 

c.i)  conducting a secret meeting of the respondent board outside of public view on October 21, 2004, (ii) failing to post notice of such meeting, and (iii) failing to create a record of such meeting, including votes taken at such meeting;

 

d.i) appointing the respondent board as a personnel search committee at an April 14, 2004, meeting of the respondent board and (ii) asserting that its meetings as a personnel search committee were exempt from the FOI Act on October 25, 2004;

 

e.i)  convening as a personnel search committee at various times between April 14, 2004, and October 21, 2004 out of the public view, (ii) failing to provide the public with notice of such meetings; (iii) failing to provide the public with records of such meetings; and (iv) conducting business during such meetings outside the scope of the parameters of a personnel search committee; specifically, the complainant alleges that any discussion not related to a specific candidate is outside the parameters of appropriate discussion for a personnel search committee.  

 

The complainant requested the imposition of civil penalties against the respondents and that any illegal actions of the respondent board be declared null and void.   

 

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

 

“The agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency…shall be filed, not less than twenty-four hours before the meetings to which they refer, in such agency's regular office or place of business…Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of a public agency present and voting, any subsequent business not included in such filed agendas may be considered and acted upon at such meetings.”

 

            4.  It is found that the respondent board conducted a regular meeting on October 25, 2004.

 

            5.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.a, above, it is found that the respondent board filed an agenda for its regular meeting of October 25, 2004, and that the respondent board subsequently filed a revised agenda, which included a new item, more than twenty-four hours before such meeting. 

 

6.  It is further found that the respondents considered the new agenda item described in paragraph 5, above, at its regular meeting of October 25, 2004, without voting by two-thirds majority to consider such item.  The complainant contends that the respondents’ failure to so vote violates the FOI Act and cites to the legislative history of 1-225(c), G.S., in support of her contention.

 

7.  However, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate 1-225(c), G.S., as alleged in paragraph 2.a, above, since the revised agenda was filed in the respondent board’s regular place of business more than twenty-four hours before the October 25, 2004, meeting. 

 

8.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.b, above, it is found that the respondents identified the new agenda item at issue as “appointment of Superintendent of Schools.”  The complainant contends that such description does not accurately reflect what transpired at the October 25, 2004, meeting, and that such agenda item should have specified not the appointment of a superintendent, but a decision to begin contract negotiations.

 

9.  It is found that, under the agenda item described in paragraph 8, above, the respondents explained the process which was used in the search for the superintendent of schools, including the fact that a personnel search committee was used, that the meetings of such search committee were not subject to the FOI Act, that a profile of a superintendent was created, that advertisements were sent out, that applications were reviewed, and that the interviews were conducted.  It is further found that public comments were then allowed, that the respondent chairman then asked for a motion with respect to the appointment of a new superintendent, and that a motion was then made to enter contract negotiations with the chosen applicant, which motion passed.  It is also found that a subsequent motion was made to consider postponing the appointment, which motion failed to pass.  It is found that the respondent chairman then welcomed the chosen applicant as the new superintendent of schools, and that such applicant then made a statement accepting the position. 

 

10.  It is found that the agenda item described in paragraph 8, above, fairly apprised the public of the business to be transacted under such item.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act, as alleged in paragraph 2.b, above. 

 

            11.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that: “[t]he meetings of all public agencies…shall be open to the public.  The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection within forty-eight hours and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken, which minutes shall be available for public inspection within seven days of the session to which they refer.”

 

            12.  Section 1-200(2), G.S., defines “meeting” as:

 

“…any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, and any communication by or to a quorum of a multimember public agency, whether in person or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.  “Meeting” does not include:  Any meeting of a personnel search committee for executive level employment candidates….”

 

            [Emphasis added.]

 

13.  Section 1-200(7), G.S., defines “personnel search committee” to mean:

 

“…a body appointed by a public agency, whose sole purpose is to recommend to the appointing agency a candidate or candidates for an executive-level employment position.  Members of a “personnel search committee” shall not be considered in determining whether there is a quorum of the appointing or any other public agency.”

 

14.  With respect to the allegations described in paragraphs 2.c.i, 2.c.ii, and 2.c.iii, above, it is found that the members of the respondent board appointed themselves members of a “personnel search committee” for candidates for superintendent of schools within the meaning of 1-225(c), G.S., [hereinafter “the committee”], on April 14, 2004.   It is also found that respondent board met on October 21, 2004, in its capacity as the committee.   

 

15.  It is found that the October 21, 2004, meeting of the committee, was not a “meeting” within the meaning of 1-200(2), G.S., that is required to be open to the public and that, therefore, the requirements set forth in 1-225, G.S., did not apply to such meeting.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act, as alleged in paragraphs 2.c.i, 2.c.ii, and 2.c.iii, above.

 

16.  With respect to the allegations described in paragraph 2.d.i, 2.d.ii, 2.e.i, 2.e.ii, and 2.e.iii, above, it is found that nothing in the FOI Act prohibits a public agency from designating all of its members as a personnel search committee. 

 

17.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act, as alleged in paragraphs 2.d.i, 2.d.ii, 2.e.i, 2.e.ii, and 2.e.iii, above.

 

18.  With respect to the allegation described in paragraph 2.e.iv, it is found that there is no evidence in the record to prove that the committee discussed matters other than those related to the search for candidates for the superintendent’s position, as described in paragraph 9, above, at any of its meetings. 

 

19.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act, as alleged in paragraph 2.e.iv, above.

 

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

 

1.      The complaint is hereby dismissed.

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of November 9, 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:

 

Erica L. Wardle

15 Pineview Drive

Branford, CT 06405

 

Annemarie Mistretta, Interim

Superintendent of Schools,

Manchester Public Schools;

Thomas Robinson, Chairman,

Board of Education, Manchester

Public Schools; Margaret Hackett,

Secretary, Board of Education,

Manchester Public Schools;

and Board of Education,

Manchester Public Schools

c/o Christine L. Chinni, Esq.

Shipman & Goodwin

One Constitution Plaza

Hartford, CT 06103-1919

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

FIC/2004-529FD/paj/11/14/2005