FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Keith Ashbey,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2008-482

Chief, Police Department,

Town of Groton; and

Police Department,

Town of Groton,

 
  Respondents July 8, 2009
       

           

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on November 10, 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 July 18, 2008, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying his request for copies of records pertaining to the investigation of the complainant’s posting of quotations on the outside of the police sergeants’ office door that he shares with two other sergeants. 

 

            3.  It is found that Assistant Chief Michael Crowley found several pieces of paper containing various quotes taped onto the door of the Sergeants’ office in the Town of Groton Police Department in March of 2007.           

 

            4.  It is found that Assistant Chief Crowley concluded that most of the quotes spoke of lack of leadership and inability to lead, and concluded that these quotes were directed at the leaders of the Town of Groton Police Department.

 

            5.  It is found that Assistant Chief Crowley determined that the quotes had been posted by the complainant, and met with the complainant about the matter on March 15, 2007.

 

            6.  It is found that the complainant requested, and was permitted, union representation during the March 15 meeting.

 

            7.  It is found that Assistant Chief Crowley took some notes during the meeting.

 

            8.  It is found that Assistant Chief Crowley also wrote a memorandum dated March 20, 2007 summarizing his investigation of the matter and his meeting with the complainant.

 

            9.   It is found that the complainant, by memorandum dated June 11, 2008, requested that the respondent Chief of Police provide any papers or documents that closed out the investigation of his posting of notes, including papers or documents with final findings and outcomes, and any and all documents generated during the investigation.

 

            10.  It is found that the Chief acknowledged the request by letter dated June 13, 2008.

 

            11.  It is found that the Chief made available to the complainant Deputy Chief Crowley’s March 15, 2007 handwritten notes and the March 20, 2007 memorandum for review and inspection on or about July 15, 2008.

 

            12.  It is found that the complainant actually obtained and paid for copies of the notes and memorandum on July 31, 2008.

 

13.  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.

 

            14.  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. 

 

15.  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.”

 

16.  It is found that the records described in paragraph 11, above, are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a), G.S.

 

17.  The complainant contends that the respondents did not provide him with all of the records of the investigation of the note-posting incident, and that the records they did provide were not provided promptly.

 

            18.  It is found that the respondents have no additional records of the investigation beyond what was made available to the complainant on or about July 15, 2008.

 

19.  With respect to the general question of promptness, the meaning of the word “promptly” is a particularly fact-based question that has been previously addressed by the FOI Commission.  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.  The Commission also gave the following guidance:

 

The Commission believes that timely access to public records by persons seeking them is a fundamental right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act.  Providing such access is therefore as much a part of their mission as their other major functions.  Although each agency must determine its own set of priorities in dealing with its responsibilities within its limited resources, providing access to public records should be considered as one such priority.  Thus, it should take precedence over routine work that has no immediate or pressing deadline.

 

20.  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.           

 

21.  It is found that a small number of documents were requested on June 11, 2008.

 

22.  It is also found that the respondents were, during this period of time, providing hundreds of pages of records to the complainant in connection with a separate request for records.

 

23.  It is found that both of the complainant’s records requests were compiled by lawyers for the town who were involved in representing the police department on a succession of matters involving the complainant, including the defense of federal and state discrimination claims by the complainant, and advising the department as to leave and return to work issues, an internal investigation, and potential disciplinary matters.

 

24.  It is found that the attorney who compiled the records responsive to the June 11, 2008 request reviewed hundreds of records to find those responsive to that request.

 

25.  It is also found that the attorney who compiled the records responsive to the June 11, 2008 request was on vacation from June 18, 2008 through June 23, 2008, and was disabled by her own illness and that of her husband from her return from vacation through the month of July 2008.

 

26.  It is found that the complainant did not request the March 2007 records until June of 2008, and did not pick up the records until more than two weeks after they were made available.

 

27.  It is concluded that, on balance, the requested records were provided promptly.

 

28.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents thereby did not violate 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.  The complaint is dismissed.

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of July 8, 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:

 

Keith Ashbey

68 Groton Long Point Road

Groton, CT 06340

 

Chief, Police Department,

Town of Groton; and

Police Department,

Town of Groton

c/o Michael P. Carey, Esq.

Suisman, Shapiro, Wool, Brennan, Gray & Greenberg

2 Union Plaza

Suite 200

New London, CT 06320

 

 

 

___________________________________

Petrea A. Jones

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2008-482FD/paj/7/13/2009