FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION

Rick Guinness and the

New Britain Herald,

 
  Complainants  
  against   Docket #FIC 2008-172

Mayor’s Downtown Steering

Committee, City of New Britain,

 
  Respondent January 29, 2009
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 25, 2008, at which time the complainants and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  The matter was consolidated for hearing with docket #FIC 2008-162, Rick Guinness and the New Britain Herald v. Fire and Police Pension Trustees, City of New Britain; and docket #FIC 2008-164, Rick Guinness and the New Britain Herald v. Board of Finance, City of New Britain.

 

1.  By letter dated March 17, 2008, and filed with the Commission on March 18, 2008, the complainants alleged that the respondent violated the Freedom of Information (hereinafter “FOI”) Act by conducting an illegal meeting and denying them access to a meeting held on February 21, 2008.  The complainants also alleged that the respondent failed to post or notice such meeting.  The complainants requested the imposition of a civil penalty against the respondent and requested that the respondent be required to attend an FOI Act training session.

 

2.  The respondent contends that it 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.  The respondent also asserts in its post-hearing brief that the meeting described in paragraph 1, above, was a closed meeting since the City of New Britain’s Charter requires that all members of boards and commissions be electors of the City of New Britain.  The respondent argues that since the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee is not comprised of all electors as required by the City of New Britain’s Charter, it is not a public agency required to notice its meetings or maintain minutes of such meetings under the FOI Act.

 

3.  Section 1-200(1), G.S., defines “public agency” to mean:

 

“…(A) [a]ny 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, and also includes any judicial office, official, or body or committee thereof but only with respect to its or their administrative functions; (B) Any person to the extent such person is deemed to be the functional equivalent of a public agency pursuant to law; or (C) Any “implementing agency,” as defined in section 32-222.” (Emphasis added.)

 

4.  It is found that on April 13, 2005 the City of New Britain Common Council approved a $250,000 grant from the State of Connecticut to conduct an economic development study for the revitalization of Downtown New Britain.

 

5.  It is also found that, by letter dated May 13, 2005, Timothy T. Stewart, Mayor of the City of New Britain, asked particular individuals to become members of the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee.  Some time thereafter, such committee was formed and was comprised of the Mayor of New Britain, the chief of staff of the Mayor’s office, state legislators, New Britain business persons, and interested citizens. 

 

6.  It is further found that the purpose of such committee was to assist the City of New Britain in accomplishing its goal of revitalizing downtown New Britain. 

 

7.  It is found that the City of New Britain Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the retention of a private vendor to conduct an economic revitalization study.  Such study is entitled “Downtown Plan and Strategy, January 2008” (hereinafter “the study”).  The City of New Britain also authorized the private vendor to hire a private developer who also prepared a development plan to supplement the vendor’s economic study in connection with the revitalization of downtown New Britain (hereinafter “the plan”).

 

8.  It is found that the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee periodically met to assist and guide the City of New Britain with the plan.  It is found that the plan was completed in July of 2007 with the assistance of the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee.

 

9.  It is found that the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee is a “committee …created by” the mayor of the City of New Britain, within the meaning of 1-200(1)(A), G.S.

 

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

 

11.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:

 

“[t]he 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.”

 

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

 

“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….”

 

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

“[n]otice 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.…”

 

14.  It is found that the respondent gathered on or about February 21, 2008 at New Britain City Hall, in New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart’s conference room (hereinafter “the meeting”). 

 

15.  It is also found that at the meeting, members of the respondent, which included New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart and his chief of staff, met in the Mayor’s conference room to discuss the study, particularly the final plan.

 

16.  It is found that at the meeting, the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee discussed matters over which it had supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power, within the meaning of 1-200(2)(A), G.S.

 

17.  Accordingly, it is concluded that the February 21, 2008 meeting of the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee was a special meeting within the definition of the FOI Act.

 

18.  It is found that members of the Mayor’s Downtown Steering Committee were notified of the committee meetings by email.

 

19.  Nonetheless, it is found that when the complainants learned of the meeting, and attempted to enter the meeting, they were denied access to such meeting by members of the respondent.

 

20.  It is found that the respondent did not give notice of the meeting within the meaning of 1-225(d), G.S.

 

21.  It is therefore concluded that the respondent violated 1-225(d), G.S., as alleged in paragraph 1, above, when it failed to post or notice the February 21, 2008 meeting.

 

22.  The Commission declines to consider the imposition of a civil penalty in this matter.

 

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 open meetings requirements of 1-225, G.S.

 

2.  The members of the respondent shall attend an FOI Act training session to be conducted by staff of the FOI Commission.  The mayor, or his designee, shall forthwith, contact the FOI Commission’s staff to schedule such training session.

 

 

                       

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 29, 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:

 

Rick Guinness and the New Britain Herald

One Herald Square

New Britain, CT 06051

 

Mayor’s Downtown Steering

Committee, City of New Britain

c/o Joseph E. Skelly, Jr., Esq.

New Britain Corporation Counsel

27 West Main Street

New Britain, CT 06051

 

 

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2008-172FD/sw/2/4/2009