OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|against||Docket # FIC 2008-195|
Anthony DaRos, First Selectman, Town of
Branford; and Board of Selectmen, Town of
|Respondents||March 11, 2009|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on January 30, 2009, at which time the complainant and respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. For purposes of hearing, the above- captioned matter was consolidated with Docket # FIC 2008-295; Dawn Massey v. First Selectman, Town of Branford; and Board of Selectmen, Town of Branford.
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. It is found that, by letter dated February 22, 2008, the complainant made a request to the respondents for “the opportunity to view the Town’s records for all reimbursements/ payments – excluding payroll payments – the Town of Branford has remitted to Trista Clyne (now known as Trista Milici) from January 1, 2001 through the date I am given the opportunity to view all such records.”
3. It is found that, by letter dated February 26, 2008, the respondents acknowledged the complainant’s request to inspect the records, described in paragraph 2, above, stating: “A review of our records will be conducted to locate any documents that may be responsive to your request. You will be notified once the review is complete and the documents, if any, are available.”
4. Anticipating that her Freedom of Information (“FOI”) request “will be ignored,” the complainant appealed to this Commission, by letter dated and filed on March 20, 2008, alleging that the respondents violated the FOI Act by failing to comply with the request described in paragraph 2, above. The complainant also requested the imposition of civil penalties against the respondents.
5. Section 1-200(5), G.S., defines “public records or files” as:
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.
6. Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
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 . . . (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212.
7. Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that “any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record.”
8. It is found that the respondents maintain the records, described in paragraph 2, above, and that such records are public records and must be disclosed in accordance with §§1-200(5), 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., unless they are exempt from disclosure.
9. It is found that, by letter dated April 28, 2008, the respondents informed the complainant that the records, described in paragraph 2, above, were available for inspection in the Town of Branford’s Finance Department, during regular business hours. It is also found that the respondents did not ask the complainant to schedule an appointment to inspect such records.
10. It is found that, sometime during the first week of May, 2008, the complainant inspected the records made available by the respondents. It is also found that, once the complainant viewed the records, she then requested copies of some of the records she inspected. It is found that such records are responsive to the request described in paragraph 2, above. At the hearing in this matter, however, the complainant claimed that the respondents failed to respond to the request, described in paragraph 2, above, promptly.
11. With respect to the complainant’s claim that the records, described in paragraph 2, above, were not provided to her “promptly,” the Commission has held that the meaning of the word “promptly” is a particularly fact-based question. In Advisory Opinion #51, In the Matter of a Request for Declaratory Ruling, Third Taxing District of the City of Norwalk, Applicant (Notice of Final Decision dated January 11, 1982), the Commission advised that the word “promptly,” as used in §1-210(a), G.S., means quickly and without undue delay, taking into consideration all of the factors presented by a particular request.
12. The advisory opinion goes on to describe some of the factors that should be considered in weighing a request for records against other priorities: the volume of records requested; the time and personnel required to comply with a request; the time by which the person requesting records needs them; the time constraints under which the agency must complete its other work; the importance of the records to the requester, if ascertainable; and the importance to the public of completing the other agency business without the loss of the personnel time involved in complying with the request.
13. The Commission takes administrative notice of the multitude of records requests filed with the respondents, as well as the multitude of corresponding appeals filed by the complainant with the FOI Commission against the respondents, between 2004 and 2008.
14. It is found that, between November 2007 and March 2008, the complainant submitted approximately 30 requests for records to the respondents. In addition, it is found that, at the time of the request, described in paragraph 2, above, the respondents were experiencing staffing shortages.
15. It is found that the complainant’s request described in paragraph 2, above, required that the respondents search reimbursement and payment records covering a seven-year period, from 2001 to 2008.
16. At the hearing, Doreen Denhardt, the accounts payable clerk in the Town’s Finance Department, testified that in addition to performing her daily duties, which are very time-consuming, she was assigned the task of retrieving any records responsive to the request, described in paragraph 2, above.
17. It is found that, due to limited space within the Finance Department, certain records, including the records, described in paragraphs 2, 9 and 10 above, are in boxes stored in the attic of the Finance Department.
18. It is also found that, Ms. Denhardt searched approximately 10 boxes of records in attempting to fulfill the complainant’s request described in paragraph 2, above. In addition, it is found that some of the records in the storage boxes were not organized alphabetically by town employee or by date of reimbursement or payment, and that it took Ms. Denhardt approximately two hours to complete her search.
19. It is found that the respondents diligently attempted to provide a complete and prompt response to the complainant.
20. It is found that the complainant had so many requests and complaints pending against the respondents that the respondents could not reasonably have responded any earlier.
21. It is found that there was no undue delay in obtaining the records, described in paragraph 2, above, because any delay was caused by the volume and frequency of the complainant’s requests for records, and the difficulty in satisfying the complainant.
22. It is found that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the respondents’ provision of the requested records, described in paragraphs 2, 9 and 10, above, was prompt within the meaning of §1-210(a), G.S.
23. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act as alleged in the complaint.
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 March 11, 2009.
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:
c/o Misty Williams
225 Stony Creek Road
Branford, CT 06405
Anthony DaRos, First Selectman,
Town of Branford; and Board of Selectmen, Town of Branford
c/o William H. Clendenen, Jr., Esq.
Clendenen & Shea, LLC
400 Orange Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Petrea A. Jones
Acting Clerk of the Commission