FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Jeffrey B. Cohen and the

Hartford Courant,

 
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2008-282

Eddie Perez, Mayor, City of Hartford;

Arena Task Force, City of Hartford; and

City of Hartford,

 
  Respondents September 24, 2008
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 28, 2008, at which time the complainants and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.* The City of Hartford has been added as a respondent. 

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

 

1.      The respondents Mayor Eddie Perez and the City of Hartford are public agencies, within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S.

 

2.      By letter of complaint received and filed on April 21, 2008, the complainants appealed to the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the FOI Act by prohibiting the public from attending the April 9, 2008 meeting of the Arena Task Force.  The complainants requested the imposition of a civil penalty against the respondents.

 

3.      The respondents assert that the Arena Task Force is not a public agency, within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S., and, therefore, its meetings do not need to conform to the requirements of the FOI Act.

 

4.      Section 1-200(1)(A), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

“Public agency” or “agency” means: (A) Any executive, administrative or legislative office of the state or any political subdivision of the state and any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state or of any city, town, borough, municipal corporation, school district, regional district or other district or other political subdivision of the state, including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official … (Emphasis added.)

 

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

 

[A]ny 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.

 

6.      It is found that Mayor Eddie Perez convened the respondent Arena Task Force.  It is found that the mayor appointed several public officials and leaders of the Hartford business community to serve on the task force.

 

7.      It is found that the Mayor’s communications office announced the creation of the task force, published two press releases under the Mayor’s letterhead, and distributed a list of the task force’s members on the Mayor’s letterhead.

 

8.      It is found that the April 9, 2008 meeting of the task force was its inaugural meeting and was held at Hartford City Hall.

 

9.      It is found that the task force is a “committee … created by” the mayor of the City of Hartford, within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S.

 

10.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the Arena Task Force is a public agency within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S. 

 

11.  It is found that Mayor Perez created the task force to advise him about the Hartford corporate business community’s support for a new arena in the XL Center as Hartford prepares to receive the Center from the State in 2013.  It is found that Mayor Perez created the task force to help him decide whether to request public funds to build a new arena.

 

12.   It is found that at its meeting of April 9, 2008, the task force discussed matters over which it has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power, within the meaning of 1-200(2)(A), G.S.

 

13.   Accordingly, it is concluded that the April 9, 2008 meeting of the Arena Task Force was a meeting within the definition of the FOI Act.

 

14.   Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:  “The meetings of all public agencies … shall be open to the public.” 

 

15.   It is found that Mayor Perez issued a press release about the April 9, 2008 meeting of the Arena Task Force 45 minutes before its 9 a.m. starting time, but refused to permit complainant Cohen, or any other member of the public, to attend the meeting at City Hall.  It is further found that complainant Cohen, who is a reporter for the Hartford Courant, contacted attorneys for the City of Hartford while the meeting was going on, but was nevertheless unable to gain access to the meeting.

 

16.   It is found that Mayor Perez’s communications office required all members of the public, including complainant Cohen, to wait in a large public area of City Hall while the meeting of the task force occurred in the Mayor’s Green Conference Room on the second floor of City Hall.  It is found that, although the mayor denied the public access to the task force’s meeting, the mayor’s staff staged a media event following the meeting, making members of the task force available for photographs and comment.

 

17.   It is found that Mayor Perez’s communication office issued a second press release following the April 9, 2008 meeting of the task force on the Mayor’s letterhead.  It is found that the press release included several statements by Mayor Perez about the task force and quoted the mayor, “I look forward to the contributions of the Task Force on this very important economic development matter.”

 

18.   It is found, however, that the Mayor insisted that the task force is not a public agency and, therefore, refused to open task force meetings to the public.  It is found that the mayor described the task force as “an advisory group to the mayor,” but nevertheless claimed that the task force “is not a publicly established group.”

 

19.   It is found that subsequent to the April 9, 2008 meeting of the task force at City Hall, and the complainants’ published newspaper report about not being able to attend the meeting, future meetings of the task force moved to the offices of the MetroHartford Alliance, which is not a public agency.

 

20.   It is found that complainant Cohen learned about the meeting times of future task force meetings through unofficial sources.  It is found that complainant Cohen tried to attend at least one meeting of the task force at the MetroHartford Alliance, but was barred from attending.

 

21.   It is concluded that the respondents violated 1-225(a), G.S., of the FOI Act, as alleged in the complaint, by refusing to open the April 9, 2008 task force meeting to the public. 

 

22.  It is further concluded that moving the location of the meetings of the Arena Task Force to the MetroHartford Alliance did not affect the task force’s status as a public agency.

 

23.   It is found that Mayor Eddie Perez is the official directly responsible for the violation on April 9, 2008. 

 

24.   It is also found that Mayor Perez’s failure to comply with the FOI Act, as described in paragraph 18, above, was without reasonable grounds.

 

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

 

1.      Forthwith, the respondent Mayor Eddie Perez shall remit a civil penalty in the amount of $500.00 to this Commission.

 

2.      Within seven days of this decision, the respondent Arena Task Force shall make minutes of all its meetings available for public inspection at City Hall.  Such minutes shall include a detailed summary of what was discussed at the meetings and shall include a record of all votes taken.  Henceforth, the respondents shall make minutes of its meetings available for public inspection at City Hall within seven days of its meetings.

 

3.      Henceforth, the respondents shall comply with all the public access requirements of 1-225, G.S., including open meetings, prompt availability of minutes of meetings, and posting of notice and agendas of meetings.

 

4.      The respondent mayor and his corporation counsel are strongly encouraged to attend a FOI workshop to be conducted by a member of the Commission’s staff.  The respondent mayor or his designee should contact the Commission’s office to arrange such workshop.



Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 24, 2008.

 

 

____________________________

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:

 

Jeffrey B. Cohen and the

Hartford Courant

c/o Paul Guggina, Esq. and

William S. Fish, Jr., Esq.

Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP

CityPlace -35th Floor

185 Asylum Street

Hartford, CT 06103-3488

 

Eddie Perez, Mayor, City of Hartford;

Arena Task Force,

City of Hartford; and City of Hartford

c/o J. Hanson Guest, Esq.

151 New Park Avenue

Hartford, CT 06106

 

 

 

 

__________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2008-282FD/paj/9/29/2008                                                                                              

 

 



* The caption of this matter erroneously described Eddie Perez as the Chairman of the Arena Task Force.  In fact, he is the Mayor of the City of Hartford.  He is not the Chairman of the Task Force.  The caption has been amended accordingly.