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Final Decision FIC2013-069
In the Matter of a Complaint by
FINAL DECISION
Robert Gross,
     Complainant
     against
Docket #FIC 2013-069
Director, Wallingford Planning Program
and Development, Town of Wallingford,
     Respondents
January 8, 2014

     The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on September 9, 2013, at which time the complainant and the respondent appeared, stipulated to certain facts 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 respondent is a public agency within the meaning of §1-200(1), G.S.
     2.  By letter of complaint filed February 13, 2013, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging that Donald Roe, the head of the Wallingford Program Planning Department, violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying him the right to attend the Recycling Committee’s  January 17, 2013 regularly scheduled meeting. The complainant requested that a civil penalty be levied against Mr. Roe, and also against town attorney Gerald Farrell, whom the complainant believes should have advised Mr. Roe of his FOI Act responsibilities, and  Mayor Williams Dickinson, whom the complainant also believes should have directed Mr. Roe to permit the complainant’s attendance at the Recycling Committee meeting.
     3.  It is found that the town of Wallingford originally created a recycling committee in the 1980’s, and that that committee was dissolved when it completed its mandate to establish town-wide recycling.
     4.  It is found that the current Recycling Committee is not a direct successor of the 1980’s committee, although it appears to perform a related function; that is, primarily to promote the continuation of recycling in the town of Wallingford.
     5.  It is found that the current Recycling Committee meets under the supervision of the head of the Wallingford Program Planning Department, Mr. Roe, whose umbrella department oversees solid waste management planning, as well as development activities and grants in other areas.
     6.  It is found that this group of volunteers, called the Recycling Committee, meets monthly with Mr. Roe in a meeting room at town hall in order to be updated by Mr. Roe on the status of town recycling efforts, including changes in the contractor or changes in the materials that are accepted for recycling, and that this group of volunteers plans and staffs, under Mr. Roe’s authority, recycling promotional events in the town, such as Earth Day, art contests promoting recycling, the sale of backyard composters, and the like.
     7.  It is found that the agenda of the January 17, 2013 meeting from which the complainant was excluded was:
• Recycling Center Update
• Compost Center Update
• Resident Disposal Center Update
• Art Recycling Contest Planning
• Summary of Governor’s Recycling Work Group Recommendations
• Next Meeting
     8.  It is also found that the complainant had also been earlier excluded from the Recycling Committee’s September 18, 2012 meeting, for which the agenda provided:
• Recycling Center Update
• Compost Center Update
• Resident Disposal Center Update
• Discussion Re: Memorial for Walter Sawallish
• Covanta Solid Waste Permit Informational Meeting – October 4, 2012
• New Programs/Potential New Programs: Goodwill Donation Box; Catalog Choice
• Single-stream Recycling Re-education
• Celebrate Wallingford Oct. 6-7, 2012: Opt-Out Theme, Terra Cycle Collection Programs, Carbon Cycle Display; Work Sign-up
• America Recycles Day – Trunk Sale Nov. 4, 2012
• Next Meeting – October 18, 2012
     9.  It is found that the complainant expected to be permitted to attend the January 17, 2013 meeting, because he had contacted the town attorney following his exclusion from the September 18, 2012 meeting, and been assured that the town attorney had spoken to the mayor, and the complainant was certainly entitled to attend the Recycling Committee’s meetings.
     10. It is found, however, that neither the town attorney nor the mayor informed Mr. Roe that the Recycling Committee’s meetings were to be open, and that the town attorney subsequently changed his mind about the issue, without so informing the complainant.
     11. It is found that when the complainant showed up at the January 17, 2013 meeting, he was told by Mr. Roe that unless the complainant left, the meeting would be cancelled. The complainant acquiesced and left. It is therefore found that the complainant was denied the opportunity to attend the January 17, 2013 meeting.
     12. The respondents contend that the complainant was not entitled to attend the September 18, 2012 meeting because it was an administrative meeting.
     13. Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part: “The meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public.”
     14. Section 1-200(2), G.S., provides in relevant part:
     “Meeting” means any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency, any convening or assembly of a quorum of a multimember public agency, and any communication by or to a quorum of a multimember public agency, whether in person or by means of electronic equipment, to discuss or act upon a matter over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power. 
     15. Section 1-200(2), G.S., provides in relevant part: “‘Meeting’ does not include: an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency.…”
     16. The phrase “administrative or staff meeting” is not defined in the FOI Act.
     17. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “administrative” as follows: “Connotes of or pertains to administration, especially management, as by managing or conducting, directing, or superintending, the execution, application or conduct of persons or things.”
     18. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary Unabridged (Merriam-Webster 1993) defines “administration” in relevant part as:
. . . performance of executive duties: management, direction, superintendence; . . . the management of public affairs as distinguished from the executive or political function of policy making . . . .
     19. It is found that the volunteer members of the Recycling Committee do not perform an executive or political function of policy making. It is further found that there was no evidence that the volunteers themselves have supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power over recycling activities in the town.
     20. It is found that Mr. Roe manages, directs or superintends the efforts of the Recycling Committee to promote and support recycling activities.
     21. It is also found that the volunteers comprising the Recycling Committee resemble unpaid staff—that is, they “staff” booths at events such as Earth Day, and they have some unspecified role in the sale of backyard composters and such events as school art competitions promoting recycling.

     22. It is found that, fundamentally, the complainant was not excluded from a meeting at which governmental policies or decisions were discussed or formulated. Rather, it is found that the complainant was excluded from a meeting of volunteer recycling activists working under the supervision of Mr. Roe.
     23. It is therefore concluded that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the meetings from which the complainant was excluded were essentially administrative or staff meetings of Mr. Roe, exercising his authority to superintend the efforts of volunteers to promote recycling activities in the Town of Wallingford.
     24. It is further concluded, therefore, that the respondent did not violate the FOI Act as alleged.
     25. There being no violation of the FOI Act found in this case, the Commission has no basis on which to consider the imposition of civil penalties.
     The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
     1.  The complaint is dismissed.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of January 8, 2014.
__________________________
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:
Robert Gross
114 Long Hill Road
Wallingford, CT  06492
Director, Wallingford Planning Program
and Development, Town of Wallingford
c/o Janis M. Small, Esq.
Corporation Counsel
45 South Main Street
Wallingford, CT  06492

____________________________
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission

FIC/2013-069/FD/cac/1/8/2014