FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Friends of Open Space,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2008-111

Conservation Commission,

Town of Fairfield; and

First Selectman,

Town of Fairfield,

 
  Respondents January 14, 2009
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 30, 2008, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  The complaint was consolidated for hearing with Docket #FIC 2008-048, Friends of Open Space v. Conservation Commission, Town of Fairfield; and Conservation Commission, as Inland Wetlands Agency, Town of Fairfield.

 

            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.  By letter of complaint filed February 19, 2008, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by failing to maintain records at the respondent Conservation Commission’s regular office or place of business; by requiring requesters to first sign their names on a sheet of paper with the date, time and materials requested; by failing to make records promptly available for inspection by causing the records first to be routed through offices unrelated to the respondent Conservation Commission without being stamped in by the town; and by refusing to turn over non-exempt records pursuant to a February 11, 2008 request.

3.  It is found that the respondents moved the location of Conservation Commission records (from January 2008 forward) concerning a certain project known as the Fairfield Metro Center Project from the Conservation Commission’s office to a room in the offices of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission (the “P&ZC”), across the hall and about 15 feet away from the respondent Conservation Commission offices.  The record location was moved because the project was large and ongoing; because the respondents believed that the records would be more accessible in a location separate from other Conservation Commission records; because more work space was available in the P&ZC offices; and because the town had engaged a third party, Redniss and Mead, Inc., to serve as the Conservation Commission’s monitor, compliance review officer, and coordinator of work for the Metro Center Project, and Redniss and Mead required more space. 

4.  It is found that records from January 2008 forward received by the Conservation Commission concerning the Metro Center Project were filed in the P&ZC location within 24 hours of receipt.

5.  It is found that the complainant, by letter dated February 11, 2008, requested that the respondent First Selectman make available:

Any and all communications and/or documents [regarding the Metro Center Project ] including but not limited to: correspondence, emails, instant messages, meeting notes, agendas, minutes, reports, documents, requests for proposals, bids, contracts, agreements, schematics, drawings or other written or electronic material, (i) prepared by your office; or (ii) received by your office or you personally from the following; or (iii) sent by your office or you personally to the following; at any time from January 1, 2007 to the present time:

 

a.     John Fallon, Esq.

b.     Richard Saxl, Esq.

c.     Stanton Lesser, Esq.

d.    Kurt Wittek

e.     Walter Stapleton

f.     Black Rock Realty

g.     Tom Bremer, Chief of Staff

h.     Tom Steinke, Director of Conservation, or Conservation staff

i.      Fairfield Conservation Commission or Inland Wetlands Agency

j.      Redniss & Meade

k.     Town of Fairfield Purchasing Department

6.  It is found that the respondent First Selectman replied by letter dated February 14, 2008, indicating that the request was very broad, and asking for “exact and detailed requests with specific titles of any reports you want.”

7.  It is found that the complainant did not reply to the February 14, 2008 letter.

8.  It is found that the respondent First Selectman, by letter dated March 19, 2008, indicated that although he had not received any response to his February 14, 2008 letter, his office had finished assembling all documents related to the request, and that the records were available.

9.  Section 1-200(5), G.S., provides:

 

“Public records or files” means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.

 

10.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

Except 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 (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, (2) copy such records in accordance with subsection (g) of section 1-212, or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212….    Each such agency shall keep and maintain all public records in its custody at its regular office or place of business in an accessible place and, if there is no such office or place of business, the public records pertaining to such agency shall be kept in the office of the clerk of the political subdivision in which such public agency is located or of the Secretary of the State, as the case may be. 

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

12.  It is concluded that all of the records at issue in this case, both those moved and those requested, are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5), 1-210(a), and 1-212(a), G.S.

13.  The complainant contends that the respondents violated 1-210(a), G.S., by failing to maintain the Metro Center Project records in its office or regular place of business.

14.  It is found that public access to the Metro Center Project records was not diminished, and was likely increased, by moving the location of records received from January 2008 onward to the nearby P&ZC offices.  It is further found that moving the records created more space in the cramped Conservation Commission offices for other projects, and gave Redniss and Mead a space to work without interfering with Conservation Commission staff engaged in other projects.

15.  It is further concluded that, to the extent the respondent Conservation Commission used space in the P&ZC office to store the records, to provide public access to the records, and to provide space for Redniss and Mead to work on the records, that the space in the P&ZC office was an “office or place of business” of the respondent Conservation Commission, within the meaning of 1-210(a), G.S.

16.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents did not violate 1-210(a), G.S., by keeping and using the Metro Center Project records in the nearby P&ZC space.

17. With respect to the complainant’s allegation that the respondents required individuals to sign for access to the Metro Center Project records, it is found that the respondents in fact required individuals who wished to inspect the Metro Center Project records to sign out for them.

18.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated 1-210(a), G.S., by requiring individuals to sign for access to inspect public records.

19.  With respect to the complainant’s allegation that the respondents violated the FOI Act by delaying prompt access to records by routing records through Redniss and Mead and other town agencies before lodging the records with the Conservation Commission in the space in the P&ZC office, it is found that no such delay was created, and that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act in this respect.

20.  With respect to the complainant’s allegation that it was not provided access to all non-exempt public records, it is found that the respondents provided access to all requested non-exempt records.

21.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act by withholding non-exempt public records.

 

 

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

 

            1.  Henceforth the respondents shall strictly comply with 1-210(a), G.S., and refrain from requiring individuals to sign any log when they ask to inspect public records.

 

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 14, 2009.

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

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:

 

Friends of Open Space

c/o Kathryn L. Braun, Esq.

1290 Post Road, Suite 2225

Fairfield, CT 06824

 

Conservation Commission,

Town of Fairfield; and

First Selectman,

Town of Fairfield

c/o Charles W. Fleischmann, Esq.

Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahy, PC

One Corporate Drive

Shelton, CT 06484

 

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2008-111FD/sw/1/15/2009