FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

In the Matter of a Complaint by FINAL DECISION
Mark Widomski,  
  Complainant  
  against   Docket #FIC 2010-576
Superintendent, Shelton Public Schools;
Finance Director, Shelton Public Schools; and
Shelton Public Schools,
 
  Respondents June 22, 2011
       

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on January 28, 2011, at which time the complainant and respondents appeared 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.      It is found that on August 31, 2010, the complainant visited the respondents’ offices during office hours to inspect records concerning the assignment of children on school busses.

 

3.      By letter of complaint filed September 9, 2010, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying his right to inspect copies of public records and by requiring him to put his request in writing. 

 

4.      Section 1-200(5), G.S., defines “public records” as follows:

 

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, …whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.

 

5.      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 inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours …

 

6.      It is concluded that the records requested by the complainant are public records within the meaning of 1-200(5) and 1-210(a), G.S.

 

7.      The complainant alleged that the respondents refused to give him prompt access to the records he requested, demanded that he put his request in writing, and threatened to call the police to have him removed from the premises.

 

8.      With respect to the timeliness of the respondents’ response, the meaning of the word “promptly” is a 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.

 

9.      The advisory opinion describes 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.

 

10.   It is found that the complainant entered the respondents’ administrative offices at the end of the second day of school.  It is found that the respondents at that time were focused on serious lapses in the safety and efficacy of bus transportation that arose at the start of the school year due to redistricting and the implementation of several special services programs in the town.

 

11.   The respondents claim that they were unable to attend to the complainant’s request at the time because they were attending to urgent transportation matters.  It is found that, for instance, at the moment when the complainant made his request to inspect records, the respondents were trying to locate a missing student who was not on his assigned bus, and were simultaneously fielding many calls from anxious parents whose children were on busses that were late or overcrowded.  It is found that on the first day of school, which was the previous day, at least one bus did not finish its route until 5:30 p.m.  The respondents testified that the situation was one of urgency and that all personnel, from the superintendent to the administrative staff, were involved with dealing with the bussing problems on that afternoon.  It is found that the respondents worked several hours past the end of their regular business day.

 

12.   It is found that the respondent finance director, who supervises the transportation coordinator, arrived back at his office from dealing with what he described as “chaotic dismissals” at the schools, shortly after the complainant arrived at the respondents’ administrative offices and made his request for records.

 

13.   It is found that the finance director reasonably believed that the records sought by the complainant would need to be redacted to withhold student record information pursuant to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”).  It is found that the finance director reasonably believed that some time and personnel would need to be devoted to compliance with the complainant’s request, and that it could not be done immediately.

 

14.   It is further found that the respondents’ other business at the time of the complainant’s request was “immediate” and “pressing” within the meaning of Advisory Opinion #51.  It is found that all of the respondents’ personnel were involved in resolving the immediate bussing issues of that afternoon, and that diverting time and personnel to complying immediately with the complainant’s request would detract from urgent agency business that afternoon.

 

15.   It is found that the respondent finance director informed the complainant that he would be unable to have immediate access to the records he requested.  It is found that the finance director asked the complainant to put his request in writing so that the finance director would remember to work on it the next day when the bussing issues calmed down. 

 

16.   Taking into consideration all of the factors presented by a particular request, it is found that the respondents attempted to comply timely and with undue delay to the complainant’s request, pursuant to Advisory Opinion #51.

 

17.   It is concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act by not permitting the complainant to inspect the records he requested on the late afternoon of August 31, 2010. 

 

18.   It is found that the respondents did not require the complainant to put his request in writing.  It is concluded, therefore, that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act as the complainant alleged.

 

19.   It is found that the complainant began to argue with the respondents when the finance director informed him that the respondents would be unable to comply with his request that afternoon while he waited.  It is found that the complainant interrupted the finance director’s phone call with the respondent superintendent about the bussing situation and that the complainant insisted that the finance director read aloud certain passages of the FOI Act in order to convince the finance director to give him immediate access to the records he sought.  It is found that it appeared to the respondents that the complainant would refuse to leave the respondents’ offices unless he got what he wanted.  It is found that the finance director insisted that the complainant leave and told him that he would call the police if he did not do so.

 

20.   It is found that after the finance director warned the complainant that he would call the police, he had a brief conversation with the complainant about why none of the personnel could respond to his request at that time.  It is found that the complainant left shortly thereafter.

 

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

 

1.       The case is dismissed.

 

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of June 22,  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:

 

Mark Widomski

55 Longmeadow Road

Shelton, CT  06484

 

Superintendent, Shelton Public Schools; Finance Director, Shelton Public Schools;

and Shelton Public Schools

c/o Craig S. Meuser, Esq.

Chinni & Meuser LLC

30 Avon Meadow Lane

Avon, CT  06001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________

Cynthia A. Cannata

Acting Clerk of the Commission

 

 

 

 

 

FIC/2010-576/FD/cac/6/23/2011