FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION
OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

 

In the Matter of a Request
for Declaratory Ruling


 

     Advisory Opinion   #89

Town Clerk, Town of New Milford, Petitioner

    

 

 

 

On April 9, 1997, the Commission considered and agreed to respond to a request for a declaratory ruling filed by the Town Clerk, Town of New Milford.

 

In his request, the petitioner states that the Cable Advisory Council that serves as the cable television advisory council for fourteen towns including New Milford (hereinafter "Cable Advisory Council") does not comply with the open meetings requirements of the Freedom of Information ("FOI") Act. The petitioner essentially seeks the Commission's opinion as to whether the Cable Advisory Council must comply with the provisions of the FOI Act. For the reasons set forth below, it is the Commission's opinion that it must.

 

The requirements of the FOI Act are obligatory on all public agencies as defined in Conn. Gen. Stat. 1‑ 1 8a(a). That subsection in relevant part defines a public agency as:

 

"any 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. . . ."

 

The test for determining whether an entity is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a) is set forth in Board of Trustees of Woodstock,Academy v. FOI Commission, 181 Conn. 544, 554 (1980). The test is comprised of the following four criteria:


 

(1) whether the entity performs a governmental function;
(2) the level of government funding;
(3) the extent of government involvement or regulation; and
(4) whether the entity was created by government.

 

In Connecticut Humane Society v. FOI Commission, 218 Conn. 757, 761 (1991), our Supreme Court approved a case-by-case application of the Woodstock criteria noted above, and established that all four criteria are not necessary for a finding of the "functional equivalence" of a public agency for the purposes of 1-18a(a). Rather "[a]ll relevant factors are to be considered cumulatively, with no single factor being essential or conclusive."

 

From the statutory and regulatory scheme applicable to cable television advisory councils, it is clear that such councils are the functional equivalent of public agencies within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(a). The relevant statutory provisions are found in Chapter 289 of the General Statutes, Conn. Gen. Stat. 16-331 et seq. and the companion regulatory provisions are found in 16-33-24 et seq. of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies.

 

Taking the Woodstock criteria in inverse order, the Commission finds that the Cable Advisory Council was created by government. Conn. Gen. Stat. 16‑331(d) contemplates and authorizes the establishment of such councils, and 16-333‑24 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies mandates the establishment of a cable television advisory council "in each area where the Public Utilities Commission has granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to a cable television company as franchise holder under authority of Chapter 289 of the General Statutes."

 

The Commission also finds that the extent of government involvement and regulation is substantial. Conn. Gen. Stat. 16-331(c)(1) requires that an officer of a cable television franchise holder meet at least twice a year with its advisory council. Conn. Gen. Stat. 16-331c, in turn, mandates that each cable television franchise holder contribute at least $2,000 annually to its advisory council. Also, pursuant to 16-333-25 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies, the chief elected official, the board of education and, in most instances, the public library board of each town in the cable television franchise area appoint, and fill the vacancies for, the majority of advisory council members. In addition, 16-333-29 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies requires at a minimum bi‑monthly regular council meetings and 16-333-30 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies requires that such councils submit an annual report to the state utilities regulatory authority.


 

Although the Commission finds that the level of government funding for cable advisory councils is nominal, the Commission also finds that such councils perform a governmental function. They advise the public utility regulatory authority with respect to the granting and renewal of franchises and the issuance of certificates of public convenience and necessity. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 16-331 and 16-331a, and

16-333-30 and 16-333-39 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies.

 

In light of these findings, the Commission believes that the Cable Advisory Council is a public agency within the meaning of Conn. Gen. Stat. 1-18a(a), and consequently must comply with the requirements of the FOI Act, including those concerning the notice, agenda and minutes of its meetings.

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                      By Order of the Freedom of
                                                                                      Information Commission

                                                                                           

                                                                                ____________________________
                                                                                       Frederick E. Hennick, Chairman

Dated: ___________________

 

Ordered:_________________

Dolores E. Tarnowski,
Clerk of the Commission