FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion

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)     Advisory Opinion   #34

 

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Planning and Zoning Commission, City of Middletown, Applicant

)     December 13, 1978

 

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On November 8, 1978, the Commission considered. and agreed to respond to the request for an advisory opinion filed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, City of Middletown.

 

In its request, the applicant notes Conn. Gen. Stats. 8-2a, which reads:

 

The secretary or clerk of each regulatory board of a political subdivision of the state, adopting subdivision or zoning regulations pursuant to the general statutes or a special act, shall make printed copies of such regulations available to the public at a reasonable price upon request.

 

The applicant states that under the authority of 8-2a, it sells copies of the complete zoning code, comprising 137 pages, for the sum of $5.00 per copy. It is the applicant's policy to sell only the entire code, and not portions of it, because individual sections or pages, when viewed independently, could be misleading. The applicant also maintains that the zoning code is always available for inspection at no cost to the public.

 

The question presented for the Commission's opinion is whether the Freedom of Information Act requires that the applicant provide copies of particular sections or pages of the zoning code at a cost not to exceed 25 cents per page.

 

 

 

 

Conn. Gen. Stats. 1-15 states in pertinent part

 

Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record. The fee for any copy provided in accordance with this section ... shall not exceed twenty-five cents per page.

 

The Commission is of the opinion that the zoning code, or any portion of it, constitutes a public record within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stats. 1-18a (d).

 

As a primary rule of statutory construction, statutes should be interpreted, if possible, so as to reconcile apparently inconsistent provisions in order to create one consistent body of law. State v. White, 169 Conn. 223, 363 A2d. 143 (1975); Spring v. Constantino, 362 A2d. 871 (1975). It is clear from the language of the Freedom of Information Act and its legislative history that the act is one of general applicability as to all public agencies within its coverage. Consequently, under another primary rule of statutory construction, it would be superceded generally by otherwise inconsistent statutes of specific applicability. State v. White, supra; City of Meriden v. Bd. of Tax Review, Town of Berlin, 161 Conn. 396, 288 A2d. 435 (1971). See also, Freedom of Information Commission, Advisory Opinion #30, In re Town Clerk, Town of Stonington (February 22, 1978).

 

Applying these rules of construction to the statutes in question, it is the Commission's opinion that 8-2a is a statute of specific applicability, superceding inconsistent provisions contained in 1-15. It therefore follows that the applicant may charge a "reasonable price" for its zoning code, and is not bound to a fee "not to exceed twenty-five cents per page."

 

While the Commission would have no jurisdiction to determine what constitutes a reasonable price under 8-2a, it notes that the applicant's charge of $5.00 for the entire 137 page zoning code amounts to less than 25 cents per page. The Commission commends the applicant for maintaining what appears on its face to be a reasonable price structure. Such a policy not only evidences a good faith effort to comply with the letter of the law, it demonstrates the applicant's desire to abide by the spirit of both 8-2a and the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Although the fee provision of 8-2a controls over that set forth in 1-15, 8-2a does not limit public access specifically to a complete volume or set of regulations. Thus, there is no conflict between the two laws; and, as a result, the general disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act prevail.

 

 

 

 

 

Since the Commission has concluded that the zoning code, or any portion of it, constitutes a public record under 1-18a (d), 1-15 mandates that the applicant promptly provide copies of such code, or any of its component sections or pages, that may be requested.

 

The fact that disclosure of isolated sections or pages of the zoning code could be misleading is not a proper reason for withholding them. This goes to the very heart of the Freedom of Information Act and the legislative policy embodied in it. That policy may be summarized best from a portion of what was to be the preamble to the act: " ... that the people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know.... " Senate Proceedings, 1975 General Assembly, vol. 18, part 5, p. 2324.

 

If the applicant believes that a person requesting copies of individual sections or pages of the zoning code may be misled, the applicant should make that concern known. In this way, the applicant will continue to abide faithfully by the law and also offer the people whom it serves the benefit of its particular expertise. This course of action, while not required by the Freedom of Information Act, is certainly in keeping with the spirit of open government that is clearly the public policy of this State.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ________________________
                                                                                            Helen M. Loy, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information
                                                                                            Commission

Date _December 13, 1978__

 

Ordered_________________

Charlene G. Arnold, Clerk