FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Corinne E. Gill and Sheila Daniels,  
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2007-096

Board of Education, Middletown

Public Schools,

 
  Respondent August 8, 2007
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 22, 2007, at which time the complainants and the respondent 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 is a public agency within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.      By an undated letter received and filed on February 13, 2007, the complainants appealed to this Commission alleging that the respondent violated 1-200(2) and (3), 1-206(b)(1) and (c), and 1-225(a), (c) and (d), G.S., of the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by allowing the superintendent of schools to attend its democratic caucus.

 

3.      Section 1-200, G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

(2) “Meeting” means 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 . . . a caucus of members of a

single political party notwithstanding that such members also constitute a quorum of a public agency . . .;

 

and

(3) “Caucus” means (A) a convening or assembly of the enrolled members of a single political party who are members of a public agency within the state or a political subdivision . . . .

4.      With respect to 1-206(b)(1), G.S., it is found that the provisions in that section pertain to the procedures of the Commission and do not create any rights enforceable by the complainant against the respondent.  Consequently, 1-206(b)(1), G.S., will not be addressed herein.

 

5.      Section 1-206(c), G.S., provides in relevant part that:

 

Any person who does not receive proper notice of any meeting of a public agency in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act may appeal under the provisions of subsection (b) of this section.  A public agency of the state shall be presumed to have given timely and proper notice of any meeting as provided for in said Freedom of Information Act if notice is given in the Connecticut Law Journal or a Legislative Bulletin.  A public agency of a political subdivision shall be presumed to have given proper notice of any meeting, if a notice is timely sent under the provisions of said Freedom of Information Act by first-class mail to the address indicated in the request of the person requesting the same.  If such commission determines that notice was improper, it may, in its sound discretion, declare any or all actions taken at such meeting null and void.

 

6.      Section 1-225, G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

(a) The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, 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 . . .;

 

 

(c) The agenda of the regular meetings of every public agency . . . shall be available to the public and 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 . . .;

 

and

 

(d) Notice of each special meeting of every public agency. . . shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of such meeting by filing a notice of the time and place thereof . . . in the office of the clerk of such subdivision for any public agency of a political subdivision of the state . . . The secretary or clerk shall cause any notice received under this section to be posted in his office.  Such notice shall be given not less than twenty-four hours prior to the time of the special meeting . . . The notice shall specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted.  No other business shall be considered at such meetings by such public agency.  In addition, such written notice shall be delivered to the usual place of abode of each member of the public agency so that the same is received prior to such special meeting . . . .

 

7.      It is found that all of the democratic members of the respondent (hereinafter “democrats”) met on the evening of January 9, 2007, to discuss matters related to the budget (hereinafter “the gathering”) at some time before 7:00 p.m.

 

8.      It is found that, prior to the gathering in question, a democratic member of the respondent board gave information with respect to the budget to the superintendent of schools (hereinafter “superintendent”) and, in response, the superintendent drafted a document addressing the information he was provided.  It is found that the superintendent intended to provide the aforementioned member with the document he drafted at the respondent’s budget meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. that same evening.  It is found, however, that the superintendent saw that member in the room in which the gathering was taking place and decided to provide the document to him then.

 

9.      It is found that at some time during the gathering, the superintendent entered into the room in which the democrats were convened.

 

10.   It is found that the superintendent was in the room for no longer than five minutes and he provided the document to the aforementioned member indicating that he was responding to the information he’d been previously provided.  It is found that the superintendent’s discussion with any other members was limited to greetings and salutations. 

 

11.   It is found that the superintendent was not invited to attend the gathering by any of the democrats and that he did not participate in any of the discussions that took place during the gathering.

 

12.   At the hearing on this matter, and in their brief, the complainants contend that the moment the superintendent entered the room, the caucus became a meeting and the respondent’s failure to have its discussions with the superintendent in public was in violation of the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act.

 

13.   It is found, however, that the superintendent interrupted the democrats’ discussion, which recommenced after he left the room. 

 

14.   It is concluded that the circumstances under which the superintendent was present during the gathering did not transform it from a “caucus” into a “meeting” within the meaning of 1-200(2), G.S.  (See Desorbo v. East Haven Town Council, Docket #FIC 1992-006; In the Matter of Richard T. O’Brien as Chairman of the Town Council of Prospect, Advisory Opinion #14, May 18, 1976; In the Matter of Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Danbury, Advisory Opinion #57, August 30, 1984.)

 

15.  It is therefore concluded that the gathering was a “caucus” pursuant 1-200(3), G.S., and not a “meeting” pursuant to 1-200(2), G.S.

 

16.  Consequently, it is concluded that the respondent did not violate the FOI Act as alleged by the complainants.

 

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 August 8, 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:

 

Corinne E. Gill

52 Basswood Drive

Middletown, CT 06457

 

Sheila Daniels

896 Millbrook Road

Middletown, CT 06457

 

Board of Education, Middletown

Public Schools

c/o Christine L. Chinni, Esq.

Chinni & Meuser, LLC

30 Avon Meadow Lane

Avon, CT 06001

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2007-096FD/paj/8/20/2007