FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Amanda Gebicki,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2009-066

Elliott Landon,

Superintendent of Schools,

Westport Public Schools; and

Westport Public Schools,

 
  Respondents January 13, 2010
       

           

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 11, 2009, 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 February 5, 2009, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying her request for prompt access to public records pertaining primarily to mold remediation at the elementary school attended by her daughter.  The complainant requested the imposition of a civil penalty.

 

            3.   It is found that the complainant, by letter dated January 3, 2009, requested that the respondent Superintendent provide, among other records no longer at issue:

 

All documents and communications, including but not limited to e-mail messages, bid specifications and proposals and work orders, in connection with indoor air quality issues, facility maintenance and ventilation issues at Kings Highway School from August 2005 to the present.

 

            4.  It is found the respondents began providing a substantial number of records and answers to questions on January 28, 2008.

 

            5.  It is found that further clarifications and requests from the complainant, and further responses and answers from the respondent, continued to the date of the hearing in this matter.

 

6.  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.

 

            7.  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. 

 

8.  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.”

 

9.  It is found that the records described in paragraph 3, above, are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a), G.S.

 

10.  The complainant contends that the respondents did not provide her with all of the records she requested, and that the records they did provide were not provided promptly.

 

            11.  It is found that the respondents conducted a diligent and lengthy search for the records requested by the complainant, over a long period of time during which the complainant sometimes refined, sometimes clarified, and sometimes expanded her initial request.        

 

12.  It is found that the respondents provided all the records that could reasonably be considered responsive to the complainant’s request.  Although certain records were not discovered by the respondents until they were referenced in other records provided to the complainant and the complainant specifically requested them, the respondents in every instance provided those records when they became aware of them or the complainant’s need for them. 

 

13.  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.

 

14.  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.           

 

15.  It is found that a large number of documents, encompassing various categories of documents not filed in any single location, were requested and provided.

 

16.  It is found that the respondents devoted 90 to 100 hours searching for records and providing them to the complainant.

 

17.  It is found that there was no specific date by which the complainant needed the requested records.  It is also found that the complainant permitted the respondents to suspend their search for records for two months in the summer when the respondent Superintendent was considering whether to assign the complainant’s daughter to a different school.  Although the complainant contends that this gave the respondents additional time to search, it is also found that the complainant’s voluntary suspension of her request gave the respondents reason to believe that the records themselves were not the complainant’s highest priority.

 

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

 

19.  It is therefore concluded that the respondents 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 January 13, 2010.

 

____________________________

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:

 

Amanda Gebicki  

3 Cherry Lane

Westport, CT 06880

 

Elliott Landon,

Superintendent of Schools,

Westport Public Schools; and

Westport Public Schools

C/o Thomas B. Mooney, Esq.

Shipman & Goodwin LLP

One Constitution Plaza

Hartford, CT 06103

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

 

 

FIC/2009-066FD/sw/1/19/2010