FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion

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)     Advisory Opinion   #14

 

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Richard T. O'Brien as Chairman of the Town Council of Prospect, Applicant

)     May 18, 1976

 

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The Commission has received and agreed to respond to a request for an advisory opinion by Robert T. O'Brien as Chairman of the Town Council of the Town of Prospect.

 

According to the facts submitted by the applicant, the Town Council is a nine-member board consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans, which five members are required for a quorum.

 

The Council appoints various town boards within the Town of Prospect. In the course of events, the Democratic membership of the Council learned of the impending resignation from such a board of a Republican board member, creating a vacancy that would be filled by the town Council in the normal course of Town Council business. The minority representation requirements of the town charter provide that the successor to be designated to that town board would have to be a Republican chosen by a vote of the entire Town Council.

 

Four of the Democrats who were Council members convened in a party caucus. A Republican Council member desired to be designated by the Council to succeed the retiring Republican board member. He represented himself to this Democratic caucus for the purpose of persuading the assembled four Democrats to look favorably upon his candidacy for appointment to the board.

 

This Republican Councilman was thus allowed to enter the room where the Democratic caucus was being held. It further appears that the Republican Council member brought with him a second Republican member of the Council, who was allowed to be present during the caucus of the Democrats. There were in attendance at the caucus four Democratic Council members; the mayor of the town, who appears to have been a Democrat; one Republican Council member, who was a candidate for a town appointment; and one Republican Council member, who was not invited but who was allowed to be present as a courtesy.

 

The Freedom of Information Commission notes that the General Assembly has included the party caucus as an obvious and appropriate exception to the definition of a public agency meeting. Under 1(b) the legislature has provided that a meeting shall not include a caucus of members of a single political party, notwithstanding that such members also constitute a quorum of a public agency. By way of definition, the General Assembly added that "'caucus' means a convening or assembly of the enrolled members of a single political party who are members of a public agency within the state or a political subdivision."

 

It is obvious to the Commission that the facts submitted by the applicant describe a caucus within the definition of P.A. 75-342, 1(b). The caucus was conducted as an assembly of the Democrats who were members of the Prospect Town Council. To the extent that members of the Republican Party were present, it is clear that the two Republican Councilmen who attended did not take part in the meeting as members of the political party but as petitioners seeking the favor of political support by the caucus, before which one of them had presented himself as supplicant. The Republican Council members present did not participate in the caucus in any way that would turn the caucus into a meeting of the Town Council as defined by 1(b) of P.A. 75-342. The entity of the Town Council simply was not present at the caucus even though six out of the nine members were present in the room.

 

The reason for this conclusion is that the function of the caucus was to discuss the position to be taken by the Democrats as a single political party in the course of a session of the Prospect Town Council that would later be convened to undertake action in behalf of the Town.

 

This distinction is not narrow. On the contrary, it is consistent with the concept of a party caucus as distinguished from a convening of the public agency, both as to intent as the function actually carried out.

 

This conclusion is consistent with the opinion of the Commission concerning a comparable problem in its Advisory Opinion No. 9 approved February 11, 1976.

 

The basic premise is that a caucus cannot act in behalf of the Town because it is not, in fact, a meeting of the public agency. It follows that, since the Democratic members of this Town Council could not exercise their powers and duties separately from the rest of the Council because they had not convened as the Town Council, no act resulting the adoption of a partisan position by this group of members of that same political party could be lawfully concluded to be an act of the Town Council. The fact that two Republican Councilmen were present does not alter this conclusion.

 

It may be helpful on future occasions where a member of the opposition party proposes to be present at a caucus that some form of notice be given to the members of both political parties within the Town Council with the advice that no person other than the candidate (in this example) will be allowed to be present during the caucus.

 

 

                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ________________________
                                                                                            Herbert Brucker, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information
                                                                                            Commission

Date ___________________

 

Ordered_________________

Louis J. Tapogna, Clerk