FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Mary Ann Dostaler,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2010-126

Board of Education, East Hampton

Public Schools; East Hampton

Public Schools; and Judith A. Golden, PhD,

Superintendent of Schools, East Hampton

Public Schools,

 
  Respondents February 9, 2011
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on June 7, 2010, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.  Pursuant to Commission Regulation 1-21j-30, Judith A. Golden, PhD, Superintendent of Schools, East Hampton Public Schools, has been added as a party respondent.  The case-caption has been amended accordingly.   

           

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 dated and filed February 23, 2010, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by  convening a meeting on February 4, 2010 “for the purpose of discussing the vision and mission of East Hampton Public Schools,” which was not noticed to the public. 

 

3.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part, that:

 

[t]he meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public.  The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken….

 

4.  Section 1-200(1)(A), G.S., in relevant part, defines “public agency” as:

[a]ny executive, administrative or legislative office of the state or any political subdivision of the state and any state or town agency, any department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official of the state or of any city, town, borough, municipal corporation, school district, regional district or other district or other political subdivision of the state, including any committee of, or created by, any such office, subdivision, agency, department, institution, bureau, board, commission, authority or official….(emphasis added);

 

5.  It is found that a goal of the respondent Board of Education (BOE) is to develop a long range plan to implement the East Hampton Public Schools’ vision statement.  It is found that the BOE directed the respondent superintendent of schools, Dr. Judith Golden, to come up with a plan to achieve that goal, but left to Dr. Golden’s discretion the specifics as to how to achieve such goal.  It is found that Dr. Golden formed a committee, the purpose of which was to engage in vision planning for the respondent East Hampton Public Schools (EHPS).  It is further found that 29 or 30 individuals were invited by Dr. Golden to be members of the committee, and that such individuals consisted of three members of the board of education, parents, teachers, administrators, business owners, grandparents and students. 

 

6.  Dr. Golden testified, and it is found, that she is the “chief executive officer of the school system.”  It is therefore found that the superintendent is a public official.    

 

7.  It is found that the committee, described in paragraph 5, above, is a committee of the superintendent, and is therefore, itself a public agency, within the meaning of 1-200(A)(1), G.S.

 

8.  It is found that the committee met twice, on January 14, and February 4, 2010, and that such meetings were not noticed to the public.[1]  It is found that, during such meetings, discussions took place concerning the development of a vision and mission statement for the EHPS.

 

9.  The complainant contends that the meeting, described in paragraph 2, above, was a meeting of a public agency, at which the public’s business was discussed, and therefore should have been open to the public.  The respondents counter, however, that the gathering was not a “meeting,” within the meaning of 1-200(2), G.S.; but rather was an “administrative or staff meeting of a single member public agency” that was not subject to the requirements of the FOI Act.

 

10.  The Commission has examined the question of what constitutes an “administrative or staff meeting of a single member public agency” in several prior decisions.  In those cases, in which it was found that single-member public agencies, such as a first selectman, or a chairman or a board of education, gathered with a another town official, attorney or staff member, to discuss a ministerial or other routine matter related to the daily administration of that office, the Commission consistently concluded that the gatherings were not “meetings” within the meaning of 1-200(2), G.S.  The Commission concluded, instead, that the gatherings were “administrative or staff meetings of a single-member public agency.”  See Goduti v. Collins, Chairman, Old Saybrook Harbor Management Commission, et al., Docket #FIC 2008-290 (March 25, 2009); Holmberg and Bethel Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. v. Board of Selectmen, Town of Bethel, Docket #FIC 2005-105 (September 14, 2005); Sheluch, Jr. v. Rosenthal, First Selectman, Town of Newtown, Docket # FIC 2002-070 (January 22, 2003); Bowman, et al, v. Zemba, Chairman, Board of Education, Regional School District #18, Docket #FIC 1998-119 (September 23, 1998).

 

11.  In the instant case, however, it is found that the members of the committee were not members of the superintendent’s staff; that the meeting, described in paragraph 2, above,  was unrelated to the superintendent’s routine, daily responsibilities; and that it did not concern administrative matters.  It is therefore found that such meeting was not an administrative or staff meeting of the superintendent.  See Hughes et al. v. Superintendent of Schools, Westport Public Schools; and Kindergarten Review Committee, Westport Public Schools, Docket #FIC 2001-557 (May 22, 2002) (meetings of committee, created by the assistant superintendent, in response to goals set by the board of education, were not administrative or staff meetings, where members of the committee were not members of the assistant superintendent’s staff;  duties and responsibilities of the teachers and administrators on the committee were independent of their duties and responsibilities as teachers and administrators in the school system; and meetings of the committee were not akin to routine, daily meetings of the assistant superintendent); Wojtas and the Day Publishing Co, Inc. v. Kelley, Chairman, Board of Education, Town of Stonington, et al., Docket #FIC 1006-162 (May 14, 1997) (meetings of school-based improvement teams, implemented by the principals of each school district, at the direction of the board of education, were not administrative or staff meetings); see also DiCara v. Winchester Drinking Water Task Force, Docket #FIC 1994-244 (May 24, 1995) (because all topics addressed by task force were administrative in nature, and because all members of task force were staff of the town manager, the meetings of task force were administrative or staff meetings of the town manager, and therefore not subject to FOI Act).

 

12.  It is therefore concluded that the meeting, described in paragraph 2, above, was not an administrative or staff meeting of the superintendent.

 

13.  It is further concluded that the respondent superintendent violated the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act by failing to require the committee to comply with the open meetings requirements contained in 1-225, G.S.

 

The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

 

            1. Henceforth, the respondent superintendent shall strictly comply with open meetings requirements of 1-225, G.S.

 

2.  Forthwith, the respondent superintendent shall create minutes of the meeting, described in paragraph 2, above, and promptly file such minutes in accordance with 1-225(a), G.S.

 

3.  The complaint against the Board of Education and the East Hampton Public Schools is hereby dismissed.

 

 

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of February 9, 2011.

 

 

____________________________

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:

 

Mary Ann Dostaler

56 William Drive

East Hampton, CT 06424


Board of Education, East Hampton

Public Schools; East Hampton

Public Schools; and Judith A. Golden, PhD,

Superintendent of Schools, East Hampton

Public Schools

C/o Roseann G. Padula, Esq.

Sullivan, Schoen, Campane & Connon, LLC

24 Stony Hill Road, Suite 106

Bethel, CT 06801

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________

S. Wilson

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

FIC/2010-126FD/sw/2/14/2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Although the committee met twice, the complainant does not make reference to the first meeting in the complaint.