FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT
|In the Matter of a Complaint by||FINAL DECISION|
|against||Docket #FIC 2010-125|
First Selectman, Town of Bridgewater;
and Board of Selectmen, Town of Bridgewater,
|Respondents||January 28, 2011|
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 30, 2010, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint. For purposes of hearing, the matter was consolidated with the Docket #FIC 2010-062; Paul J. Garlasco v. First Selectman, Town of Bridgewater and Town of Bridgewater.
At the September 30, 2010 hearing, the complainant began the presentation of his case-in-chief in Docket #FIC 2010-062; Paul Garlasco v. Town of Bridgewater, but was unable to complete the presentation. The hearing was continued to October 29, 2010. On October 29, 2010, the complainant and the respondents again appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the instant 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. It is found that, by a handwritten letter on a fax coversheet dated February 8, 2010, the complainant made the following request for records to the respondents:
Please provide me with copies of 1) all Bids submitted to the Town under Bidding ordinance (b) revised 3/29/0 [illegible] for the last 5 years. 2) copies of all Bids for the last 5 years under (h) of the same ordinance 3) copies of all contracts for the last five years under [illegible] of the same ordinance & 4) under the same ordinance & for the last five years please provide copies of [illegible] items & bids sold for both less than and more than $500.00.
3. It is found that, by email dated February 9, 2010, the respondents acknowledged the complainant’s request for records and stated that they would conduct a review for responsive records. It is further found that the respondents requested that the complainant provide them with a legible copy of his request so that they could ensure that they understood what he was seeking. Finally, it is found that the respondents informed the complainant that they would notify him once their review for responsive records was complete and the records, if any, were available for him.
4. It is found that, by email dated February 10, 2010, the complainant sent the respondents the following response to the February 9, 2010 correspondence referred to in paragraph 3, above:
THANKS SOOO [sic] MUCH MY REQUEST IS: FOR BILL STUART, AS SELECTMAN, THE TOWN OF BRIDGEWATER, AND ‘THE PURCHASING AUTHORITY’ AND THE TOWN OF BRIDGEWATER: PROVIDE COPIES OF 1) ALL BIDS SUBMITTED TO THE TOWN UNDER THE BIDDING ORDINANCE (b) AS REVISED ON 3/29/08 FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS AND 2) COPIES OF ALL BIDS FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS UNDER (h) OF THE SAME ORDINANCE AND 3) COPIES OF ALL CONTRACTS, FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS, UNDER (i) OF THE SAME ORDINANCE AND 4) COPIES OF ALL BIDS FOR ANY ITEMS (WHATSOEVER) THAT WAS [sic] SOLD FOR BOTH, LESS THEN [sic] $500.00 AND MORE THAN $500 FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS, AND A LIST OF ALL ITEMS (WHATSOEVER) THAT WAS [sic] SOLD BY ANY OF THE ABOVE NAMED RESPONDENTS FOR THE LAST 5 YEARS [capitalization in original].
5. By way of a fax coversheet dated and filed February 23, 2010, the complainant appealed to the Commission, stating the following: “Please accept this fax as a complaint against Stuart & Town of Bwtr [sic] & ‘purchasing authority’ for failure to produce requested documents certified to all respondents by fax.”
6. By letter dated April 1, 2010, the Acting Clerk of the Commission informed the complainant that his appeal to the Commission was lacking sufficient detail to substantiate his claim of a violation of the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act—to wit, the Acting Clerk informed the complainant that “[i]t was not at all clear what you sought, when you sought it and when or if you were denied access.” The Acting Clerk further informed the complainant that the Commission would take no further action on his appeal at that time.
7. By letter dated and filed April 7, 2010, the complainant further substantiated his original correspondence referred to in paragraph 5, above, indicating the date of his request, clarifying the nature of the records that he had requested, and alleging that the respondents had “failed to provide copies of ANY of the requested items,” in violation of the FOI Act.
8. 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.
9. 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, . . . or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212.
10. 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.
11. It is found that, to the extent that the respondents maintain the records described in paragraph 2, above, the records are “public records” and must be disclosed in accordance with §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., unless they are exempt from disclosure.
12. It is found that, by email dated March 23, 2010, the respondent First Selectman’s Assistant, Ms. Anne Marie Lindblom, informed the complainant that most, if not all, of the requested records pertaining to the bids awarded in the past 10 years would be referenced in the Board of Selectmen’s meeting minutes. It is further found that Ms. Lindblom inquired as to whether the complainant would be able or interested in coming into the Bridgewater Town Hall to view these records.
13. In it found that, by email dated March 23, 2010 and sent at 11:16 AM, the complainant responded to Ms. Lindblom’s communication, stating, in relevant part, as follows: “PLEASE SET OUT EACH SUCH BID/MEETING FILE AND LET ME KNOW WHEN ITS [sic] READY. . . . ” [Capitalization in original].
14. It is found that, by email dated March 23, 2010 and sent at 4:25 PM, the complainant again responded to Ms. Lindblom’s email described in paragraph 12, above, stating that he did not believe that access to the minutes was in compliance with his request. It is further found that, at this time, the complainant further stated in this email, in relevant part, as follows: “PLEASE PROVIDE COPIES OF THE BIDS THAT WERE ACTUALLY PUBLISHED ALONG WITH THE DOCUMENTS THAT ESTABLISH THEY WERE ACTUALLY PUBLISHED IN THE NEWSPAPER . . . .” [Capitalization in original].
15. It is found, however, that sometime after the communication referred to in paragraph 14, above, the complainant requested that the respondents compile the records so that he could have access to them before any copies were made. It is found that the complainant further requested the respondents notify him when they had compiled the records.
16. It is found that, by email dated May 25, 2010, Ms. Lindblom, on behalf of the respondents, sent the complainant the following email: “I am still working on your request for information. You are welcome to come in to my office during hours to see what has been compiled so far and make copies of what you desire.” It is found that, on or about this time, the respondents had compiled (and thereafter copied, see ¶21, below) 3,000 pages of records for the complainant.
17. It is found that the complainant did not reply to Ms. Lindblom’s May 25, 2010 communication referred to in paragraph 16, above. It is further found that the complainant never went to Ms. Lindblom’s office to review the records that she had compiled for his review.
18. It is found that, by email dated September 20, 2010 and sent at 8:48 AM, the complainant inquired of Ms. Lindblom, in relevant part, as follows: “PLEASE ADVISE IF YOU HAVE COMPLETED THE COMPILATION OF THE REQUESTED RECORDS SO AS TO MAKE IT UNNECESSARY TO MOVE FORWARD WITH THE SEPT 30 HEARING.” [Capitalization in the original].
19. It is found that, by email dated September 20, 2010 and sent at 9:43 AM, Ms. Lindblom responded to the complainant, stating as follows: “I have compiled records for you to review and request copies as desired. There is a significant amount of information dealing with the Senior Center alone. I suggest that you come in to the Town Hall during regular business hours to look at the information that is available before I make thousands of unnecessary copies.”
20. It is found that, by email dated September 20, 2010 and sent at 11:26 AM, counsel for the respondents inquired of the complainant as to whether the complainant wanted copies or access to the records that he had requested. It is further found that counsel stated that he was attempting to save the respondents as well as the complainant “time and money” by only making copies of records that the complainant had a real interest in obtaining.
21. It is found that, by email dated October 6, 2010, the respondents’ counsel informed the complainant that his staff had finished copying the documents responsive to his FOI request. It is found that counsel further attached an invoice for copies.
22. It is found that, in response to counsel’s October 6, 2010 email, the complainant did not state that he wanted access to the records rather than copies of them.
23. Rather, it is found that, in response to counsel’s email, referred to in paragraph 21, above, the complainant, by email dated October 7, 2010, replied as follow: “WE WILL FORWARD PAYMENT PURSUANT TO STATUTE.” [Capitalization in original].
24. It is found that, by email dated October 8, 2010, the complainant sent an email to the respondents stating, in relevant part, as follows: “GIVEN THE LATE DISCLOSURE AND THE INCOMPLETE DISCLOSURE (FAILURE TO PRODUCE BIDDING DOCUMENTS AS OUTLINED BY THE UNANIMOUS REQUEST OF THE TOWNS [sic] BOARD OF FINANCE) WE WILL BE REQUESTING FREE COPIES (AS WAS AWARDED IN OUR LAST FOI VICTORY) AS WELL AS PENALTIES. . . .” [Capitalization in original].
25. It is found by logical inference from the complainant’s willingness to pay for the records that had been compiled for his review (see ¶23, above) that, at that time, the complainant again wanted copies of the records, rather than access to them.
26. It is found that, at the time of the October 29, 2010 contested case hearing in this matter, the complainant had not forwarded payment for the requested records to the respondents.
27. It is found that, throughout this entire process, the complainant has never once gone to the town hall to review the records that the respondents, through Ms. Lindblom, have compiled for his review.
28. It is found that the respondents attempted to accommodate the complainant’s request at every juncture—whether it was for copies of public records or access to public records. It is found that the major obstacle in satisfying the request in this case was the complainant himself. It is found that the complainant changed the form of his request, vacillating between wanting copies of records and access to records, five times. See ¶¶ 4, 13, 14, 18, and 23, above.
29. The respondents contend that the complainant’s
appeal should be dismissed and a civil penalty should be assessed against
30. Section 1-206(b)(2), G.S., provides, in relevant part, as follows:
If the commission finds that a person has taken an appeal under this subsection frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing the agency from which the appeal has been taken, after such person has been given an opportunity to be heard at a hearing. . . , the commission may, in its discretion, impose against that person a civil penalty of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one thousand dollars.
31. While it is clear to this Commission that the complainant wanted to use this agency’s contested case hearing process as a forum for taking depositions—especially the first selectman’s deposition--it cannot be found that the complainant did not want the requested records at the time he filed the appeal in this case. Ironically, it is found that much of the complainant’s case presentation substantiated the finding made in paragraph 33, below. In sum, however, it cannot fairly be said that the complainant’s February 23, 2010 appeal was undertaken “frivolously, without reasonable grounds and solely for the purpose of harassing” the respondents. [Emphasis supplied].
32. Accordingly, the respondents’ request for a civil penalty is denied.
33. It is concluded that the respondents did not violate the disclosure requirements of 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 dismissed.
2. The respondents may assess the statutory fee for copies of the requested records.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its special meeting of January 28, 2011.
Cynthia A. Cannata
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:
83 Park Lane Road
New Milford, CT 06776
First Selectman, Town of Bridgewater; and Board of Selectman, Town of Bridgewater
c/o Larry Pereira, Esq.
Baker Law Firm, PC
24 Delay Street
Danbury, CT 06810
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission
 At or around this time, the complainant informed the respondents that he specifically wanted to see the town’s bids for professional legal services. It is found that, at this time, Ms. Lindblom informed the complainant that the town does not have any bids pertaining to professional legal services because the town does not go out to bid for such services.