FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
John Patton,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2008-351

Michael Eldredge, First Selectman,

Town of Willington;

Mark Palmer, Selectman,

Town of Willington; and

Board of Selectmen,

Town of Willington,

 
  Respondents May 13, 2009
       

           

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 25, 2008, at which time the complainant and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of 1-200(1), G.S.

 

2.  By letter of complaint filed May 19, 2008, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents Eldredge and Palmer violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by meeting privately on a matter over which the respondent Board had authority.

 

3.  Specifically, the complainant alleged that Eldredge and Palmer must have discussed the recent reorganization of the public works department privately, because they talked at the First Selectman’s office during the day several times a week, and the reorganization had not been discussed publicly.

 

4.  It is found that the respondent Eldredge, as First Selectman of the Town of Willington, has administrative responsibility over the day-to-day activities of the town.  Among other duties, he oversees and coordinates department heads.  Specifically, it is found that the respondent Eldredge, as part of his administrative responsibilities, oversees the director of the town Department of Public Works, pursuant to a vote of the respondent Board.  Further, pursuant to a vote of the Board, the Department of Public Works Transfer Station Operator and Assistant Transfer Station Operator report directly to the First Selectman. 

 

5.  It is found that Selectman Palmer visits the First Selectman at his office several times a week.

 

6.  It is found that the respondent Eldredge, as First Selectman, sometimes asks one of the other Selectmen to investigate a matter for him.

 

7.  It is found that the respondent Eldredge asked the respondent Selectman Palmer to investigate certain matters at the Department of Public Works that Eldredge supervises.  

 

8.  It is found that, after Palmer conducted his investigation, he met briefly with Eldredge and reported his findings that employees felt they were being harassed on the job by the director of Public Works, that the director of Public Works was making unfair or preferential job assignments and unnecessary personal remarks.

 

9.  It is found that Eldredge and Palmer did not discuss how Eldredge would handle the problem.

 

10.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part: “The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public.” 

 

11.  Section 1-200(2), G.S., provides in relevant part: “Meeting” does not include an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency ….

 

12.  In Advisory Opinion #56, concerning when a first selectman on a three-member board of selectmen could meet with another member, the Commission stated:

 

Furthermore, it is the Commission's opinion that the applicant [first selectman] alone, or the other selectman alone, may communicate with the first selectman, in his capacity as chief administrative officer, without complying with the open meetings requirements of the FOI Act. Thus, it is the Commission's view that a "meeting," as defined in 1‑18a(b) [now 1-200(2)], does not occur when such communication is strictly limited to inquiries of the first selectman in his capacity as chief administrative officer. This opinion is based upon the belief that the first selectman in his role as chief administrative officer is a separate public agency from the board of selectmen. Consequently, his communication of town procedures or policies to another selectman, and his answering of such selectman's requests for information about town government, is not a "meeting" of the board of selectmen, as "meeting" is defined for purposes of the FOI Act. In reality, it is an administrative meeting of a single‑member public agency that is specifically excluded from the open meetings requirements of that act by virtue of the terms of 1‑18a(b).

 

 

13.  It is found that the communication in this case between Eldredge and Palmer was not “strictly limited to inquiries of the first selectman” or “communication of town procedures or policies to another selectman” or “answering of such selectman’s requests for information about town government.”

 

14.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents violated the FOI Act as alleged.

 

 

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 the requirements of 1-225(a), G.S.

 

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May l3, 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:

 

John Patton  

P.O. Box 316

Willington, CT 06279

 

Michael Eldredge, First Selectman,

Town of Willington;

Mark Palmer, Selectman,

Town of Willington; and

Board of Selectmen,

Town of Willington

C/o Michael C. Harrington, Esq. and

Michael C. Markowitz, Esq.

City Place I

185 Asylum Street

Hartford, CT 06103

 

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2008-351FD/sw/5/14/2009