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Final Decision FIC2014-667
In the Matter of a Complaint by
FINAL DECISION
Bernard Kokinchak,
     Complainant
     against
Docket #FIC 2014-667
Chairman, Animal Control
Task Force, Town of Southbury;
Animal Control Task Force,
Town of Southbury; and
Town of Southbury,
     Respondents
June 24, 2015

     The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on May 5, 2015, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1-200(1), G.S.
     2.  By email, dated October 9, 2014 and filed October 14, 2014, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act when members of the respondent task force (“task force”) “ordered” him to leave prior to the start of their October 8, 2014 meeting, and by thereafter meeting in private to discuss the substantive business of the task force.
     3.  Section 1-225, G.S., provides in relevant part that:
(a)[t]he meetings of all public agencies, except executive sessions, as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, shall be open to the public…. 
     4.  Section 1-200(2), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
“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.  “Meeting” does not include...communication limited to notice of meetings of any public agency or the agendas thereof.
     5.  It is found that notice of a special meeting of the task force, to be held at 7:00 p.m. on October 8, 2014 in room 208 of the town hall, was posted on the town’s website. 
     6.  It is found that on October 7, 2014, the secretary/vice chairperson of the task force, Jennifer O’Neill, sent notice to the task force members that the meeting was canceled, and informing them that she and another member of the task force would nevertheless be meeting on October 8th at 7 p.m. in room 208 to “discuss with the other members that can make it the schedule for next meetings and the agenda for those meetings (which is OK under the CT Freedom of Information Act).”  It is found that the respondents did not post notice of the cancellation of the October 8th meeting. 
     7.  It is found that the complainant saw the notice, described in paragraph 5, above, and, on October 8, 2014, arrived at the town hall at approximately 6:30 p.m., intending to attend and video record the meeting.  It is found that the complainant was unaware that the meeting had been cancelled.
     8.  It is found that four members of the task force arrived at the town hall prior to 7:00 p.m., and that, at that time, the complainant was in room 208 with his video equipment.  It is found that Ms. O’Neill informed the complainant that the public meeting scheduled for that evening had been cancelled, and that a meeting that is not open to the public under the FOI Act would be starting at 7:00 p.m., and that therefore he should leave.  Ms. O’Neill testified that both she and another member of the task force felt that the complainant was acting “aggressively” toward them.1   It is found that, in response to Ms. O’Neill’s request that he leave the room, the complainant stated “if you want me to leave, you’ll have to call the police.”  It is further found that, after further dialogue between Ms. O’Neill and the complainant regarding her request that he leave, Ms. O’Neill told the complainant that if she had to, she would call the police to get him to leave. 

1
The Commission does not credit this testimony.
     9.  It is found that at approximately 7:00 p.m. the complainant left the room and the building.
     10. It is found that, thereafter, the four members of the task force discussed the schedule of meetings and the agenda items for such meetings, as well as some personal matters, such as Ms. O’Neill’s dog.  It is found that the members did not discuss matters over which the public agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.
     11. Accordingly, it is found that the gathering of the task force members on October 8th was not a “meeting,” as that term is defined in the FOI Act.
     12. Based upon the foregoing, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate the FOI Act, as alleged in the complaint.
     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.
     2.  The Commission suggests that, in the future, the respondents consider posting  notice of cancellation of a scheduled meeting on the town’s website and on the public entrance to the building where the meeting was to be held.  In addition, the Commission reminds the respondents that nothing in the FOI Act prohibits a public agency from permitting members of the public to attend gatherings of its members at which only scheduling and agenda items are to be discussed.  Excluding the public from such gatherings invites suspicion that improper discussions are taking place.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of June 24, 2015.

__________________________
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:
Bernard Kokinchak
197 Strongtown Road
Southbury, CT  06488
Chairman, Animal Control Task Force, Town of Southbury;
Animal Control Task Force, Town of Southbury; and
Town of Southbury
c/o Jeffrey J. Tinley
Tinley, Renehan & Dost, LLP
60 North Main Street
2nd Floor
Waterbury, CT  06702
____________________________
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission

FIC/2014-667/FD/cac/6/24/2015