FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
|In the Matter of a Complaint by
|Martin J. Lawlor, Jr.,
|Docket #FIC 2006-264
Board of Selectmen,
Town of Bethel,
|January 24, 2007
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 15, 2006, 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. It is found that the respondent is a public agency within the meaning of §1-200(1), G.S.
2. By letter dated May 19, 2006, and filed on May 22, 2006, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to accurately describe the business to be transacted at its April 25, 2006 special meeting. Specifically, the complainant alleged that the agenda should have included the names of the individuals under consideration for appointment to the Charter Revision Commission (“CRC”). The complainant therefore requests that the action by the respondent with respect to such appointments be declared null and void.
3. Section 1-225(d), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
“The notice [of each special meeting of every public agency] shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted.”
4. It is found that at the respondent’s March 21, 2006 regular meeting, the respondent unanimously voted to notify the public that it was considering the establishment of the CRC, and that anyone interested in serving on the CRC should forward their name for consideration.
5. It is found that at the respondent’s April 4, 2006 regular meeting, the respondent announced that no appointments would be made to the CRC because the public had not had sufficient opportunity to recommend candidates for such appointment and because the respondent had not received the Democratic Town Committee’s recommendation for appointment to the CRC.
6. It is found that the respondent received six responses to its request for candidates for appointment to the CRC. It is further found that the respondent received four of those responses on or before April 24, 2006.
7. It is found that the agenda for the respondent’s April 25, 2006 special meeting was filed with the town clerk on April 24, 2006.
8. It is found that the respondent held a special meeting on April 25, 2006. It is found that the agenda for such meeting read, in relevant part:
1) Consideration of request from the Planning & Zoning Commission – land acquisition on Chestnut Ridge Road
9. It is found that, at the April 25, 2006 special meeting of the respondent, five individuals were appointed to the CRC.
10. It is found that it has been the practice of the respondent to list “Appointments to various Boards and Commissions,” under “New Business” on its agendas, without further specifying the individuals under consideration, or the boards or commissions to which they may be appointed.
11. In Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Plainfield, et al. v. FOIC et al., Superior Court, Docket No. CV 99-0497917-S, Judicial District of New Britain, Memorandum of Decision dated May 3, 2000 (Satter, J.), reversed on other grounds, 66 Conn. App. 279 (2001), the court observed that one purpose of a meeting agenda “is that the public and interested parties be apprised of matters to be taken up at the meeting in order to properly prepare and be present to express their views,” and that “[a] notice is proper only if it fairly and sufficiently apprises the public of the action proposed, making possible intelligent preparation for participation in the hearing.”
12. At the hearing on this matter, the respondent contended that the outcome of this case is controlled by the Commission’s Final Decision in Docket #FIC 2005-280, David LeBlanc v. Town Council, Town of Watertown. In that case, the complainant argued that because the agenda did not include the name(s) of the individual(s) under consideration for appointment to certain boards and commissions, nor the name of the board or commission to which the appointment would be made, it did not fairly and sufficiently apprise the public of the business to be transacted at the meeting. The Commission rejected that argument and concluded that under the facts and circumstances of that case, the agenda item fairly apprised the public of the business to be transacted.
13. It is found that LeBlanc is factually distinguishable from the present case. In that case, the Commission found that at its April 2005 regular meeting, the respondent discussed the appointment of Mr. Mark Tedesco to the Planning and Zoning Commission (“P&ZC”), but took no action. The item was then tabled. At the May 2005 regular meeting, the agenda of which was at issue, there was public comment concerning Mr. Tedesco’s appointment, then the respondent discussed and voted on Mr. Tedesco’s appointment to the P&ZC. In that case, therefore, the public had notice, prior to the May 2005 meeting, of the name of the individual whose appointment was to be discussed and voted on at the May 2005 meeting.
14. The respondent also relies on Sherry Didsbury and the Terryville/Plymouth Community News v. Police Commission, Town of Plymouth, Docket #FIC 2004-091, in support of its claim that “the historical practices of the respondent with respect to the requisite level of detail in agendas” is significant in determining whether the public was fairly apprised of the matters to be considered at the meeting in question.
15. However, it is found that Didsbury is factually distinguishable from the present case, in that Didsbury did not involve the identities of applicants.
16. Based upon the facts and circumstances of this case, it is concluded that the respondent violated the FOI Act by failing to specify either the agency to which appointments were to be made, or the individuals being considered for appointment.
17. It is found that, since April 25, 2006, the CRC has conducted four meetings, during which it has accepted public input on charter revision issues, and also, that the CRC has not formally proposed any such revisions to the charter of Bethel. It is further found that any revisions proposed by the CRC will be subject to public comment and eventually to town vote.
18. At the hearing in this matter, the complainant asked that the action taken at the April 25, 2006 meeting appointing the members of the CRC be declared null and void, contending that had the public known which individuals were being considered for appointment to the CRC, it could have publicly participated and perhaps persuaded the respondent to select different CRC members.
19. However, it is found that the complainant’s reasoning as to what might happen if the Commission was to declare null and void the action of the respondent at its April 25, 2006 meeting is purely speculative. Moreover, it is further found that nothing in the FOI Act requires that the respondent accept public comment, and that nothing in such Act prevents the respondent from reappointing the same CRC members that were appointed on April 25, 2006.
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 provisions of § 1-225(d), G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 24, 2007.
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:
Martin J. Lawlor, Jr.
99 Greenwood Avenue
Bethel, CT 06801
Board of Selectmen,
Town of Bethel
c/o William J. Hagan, Esq.
30 Main Street, Suite 500
Danbury, CT 06810
Petrea A. Jones
Acting Clerk of the Commission
 Other, similar language is also found to have been used, including “Consideration of Appointments – Boards & Commissions” and “Appointments – Boards & Commissions”.