FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
    for Advisory Opinion


 

     Advisory Opinion   #57

Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Danbury, Applicant

    

 

 

 

On January 25, 1984, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to the request for an advisory opinion filed by an Assistant Corporation Counsel of the City of Danbury.

 

In his request, the applicant states that the Danbury Common Council, the city's legislative body, is composed of twenty‑one elected members. At the present time, all council members belong to the same political party. Council members have recently adopted a policy of granting public access to their caucuses.

 

In essence, the applicant seeks the Commission's opinion as to whether public attendance at a caucus of the members of a public agency, the members of which belong to the same political party, transforms that caucus into a "meeting" of the public agency that is subject to the open meetings requirements of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat.1‑18a(b), in relevant part. states

 

"Meeting" means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency... to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power. "Meeting" shall not include. .a caucus of a single political party.... "Caucus" means a convening or assembly of the enrolled members of a single political party who are members of a public agency....

 

The "caucus" exclusion to the 1‑18a(b) definition of meeting constitutes an exception to the FOI Act's general rule in favor of open meetings. As an exception, it must be strictly construed and not extended beyond its evident intent. Willoughby v. New Haven, 123 Conn. 446, 454 (1937); Board of Trustees of Woodstock Academy v. Freedom of information Commission, 181 Conn. 544, 550 (1980). Consequently, it is the

Commission's opinion that the FOI Act's open meetings provisions do not govern a caucus limited to the members of a single political party who are also members of a public agency. See also Giordano v. FOI Commission. 36 Conn. Sup.117, 121 (1979).

 

In a sense, however, the foregoing conclusion does not adequately address the precise question raised by the applicant. This is because the question does not necessarily encompass participation at a caucus by persons other than party and agency members. Rather, it contemplates mere public attendance at such a caucus.

 

Although a caucus as defined in 1‑18a(b) is excluded from the operative provisions of the FOI Act, there is nothing in the act that either prescribes or proscribes the conduct of such a caucus. Thus, for example, there is no prohibition against public attendance at a caucus. Indeed, the Commission believes that public attendance at such a caucus is in keeping with the spirit of open government embodied in the FOI Act. This is because it enables the public to more fully understand the process by which governmental decisions and policies are formulated.

 

Therefore, it is the Commission's opinion that mere attendance at a 1‑18a(b) caucus by non‑agency and non‑party members of the public, who do not otherwise participate in the caucus, will not automatically transform that caucus into an agency meeting subject to the requirements of the FOI Act. On the other hand, any participation at such a caucus by those who are not members of the agency and the political party calling the caucus will result in the inapplicability of the "caucus" exclusion to the FOI Act.

 

The Commission cautions that this opinion should not be construed as broadening the "caucus" exclusion to the FOI Act. The Commission will continue to construe the definition of caucus strictly according to its terms and with specific attention to its participants. If any persons in attendance, other than agency and party members, are permitted to participate in any way, such participation will be deemed by the Commission to take the caucus out of the 1‑18a(b) exclusion. In that case, if the definition of "meeting" in 1‑18a(b) is found to apply, the agency may well find itself in violation of the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act unless it has otherwise complied with the requirements of that act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                            By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                            Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ________________________
                                                                                            Judith A. Lahey, Chairman of
                                                                                            of the Freedom of Information
                                                                                            Commission

Date ___________________

 

Ordered_________________

Mary Jo Jolicoeur
Clerk of the Commission