Final Decision FIC2014-895
In the Matter of a Complaint by
||Docket #FIC 2014-895|
Town Clerk, Town of Mansfield;
and Town of Mansfield,
September 24, 2015
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on July 1 and July 31, 2015, at which times 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. It is found that, by letter dated December 9, 2014 to the respondent Town Clerk, the complainant requested copies of “all records in the town’s possession relating to investigations or inquiry by the Federal Attorney’s Office, State Attorney’s office, Troop C or any division there of [sic], the Connecticut Attorney General’s office, and/or the FBI… relat[ing] to… the Town of Mansfield’s financial accounting and financial accounting services processed through the Town’s Chief Financial Officer or her staff….” (the “requested records”).
3. It is found that, by letter dated December 15, 2014, the respondent Town Clerk acknowledged the complainant’s request, stating that the requested records were being compiled for review by the town attorney. The review was expected to be completed by December 31, 2014, but the respondent Town Clerk also indicated she would let the complainant know if the records were available for disclosure earlier.
4. By letter dated and filed with the Commission on December 16, 2014, the complainant appealed to the Commission, stating that he was “writing to request a hearing to determine whether the refusal of the Town of Mansfield to disclose the documents requested in my letter of December 9, 2014, see attached Exhibit A, before December 31, 2014, see Exhibit B, is in compliance with the promptness requirement of CGS Sec. 1-210.”
5. Section 1-200(5), G.S., states:
“Public records or files” means any recorded data or information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used, received or retained by a public agency, or to which a public agency is entitled to receive a copy by law or contract under section 1-218, whether such data or information be handwritten, typed, tape-recorded, printed, photostated, photographed or recorded by any other method.
6. Sections 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., state, respectively, in relevant parts:
Except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute, all records maintained or kept on file by any public agency, whether or not such records are required by any law or by any rule or regulation, shall be public records and every person shall have the right to (1) inspect such records promptly during regular office or business hours, (2) copy such records in accordance with subsection (g) of section 1-212, or (3) receive a copy of such records in accordance with section 1-212. (emphasis added)
Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain or certified copy of any public record. (emphasis added)
7. It is found that the respondent Town Clerk initiated her search for records by contacting: a) the Town Manager, Matthew Hart, and the Assistant Town Manager, Maria Capriola, on December 10, 2014; b) the Director of Finance, Cherie Trahan, also on or about December 10, 2014; and c) with Maria Capriola acting as intermediary, Jamie Russell in the Information Technology Department.
8. It is found that, by email dated December 19, 2014, the town attorney, Kevin Deneen, forwarded a copy of a search and seizure warrant to the complainant in response to his FOIA request. Attorney Deneen also noted that the warrant maintained by the respondent Town did not include the warrant application or supporting affidavits. Finally, he stated that he would be happy to mail a hard copy if requested. The complainant responded by email, also dated December 19, 2014, that he was unable to open the emails. Attorney Deneen, on the same day, mailed a hard copy of the search and seizure warrant to the complainant.
9. It is further found that the search for electronic records identified a few emails within the scope of the complaint’s request, which were available at the respondent Town Clerk’s office by December 31, 2014. The complainant took possession of these emails during February 2015.
10. At the hearings, the respondents argued that the complaint was limited to alleging a promptness violation and that testimony concerning whether all requested records were disclosed should not be permitted on the grounds that such testimony would be beyond the scope of the complaint. The hearing officer ruled that, while respondents’ argument was certainly colorable, the complaint did reference a refusal to disclose documents and therefore testimony on this subject would be permitted. The hearing officer also stated at the July 1, 2015 hearing that the respondents would be permitted a continued hearing, if they wished, in order to have the opportunity to prepare fully concerning the disclosure of all requested records.
11. It is found, based on the testimony of the Town Manager, Mr. Matt Hart, that the respondent Town was never provided and has never maintained the warrant application and affidavits that supported the search and seizure warrant. On July 30, 2015, the day prior to the second hearing before the Commission, the complainant was able to get copies of the warrant application and supporting affidavits from the Rockville Superior Court. However, on October 31, 2014, when two detectives from Troop C of the State Police served the warrant on Mr. Hart as a representative of the respondent Town, only the search and seizure warrant was delivered.
12. It is found that it was highly unusual for a search and seizure warrant to be served on the respondent Town. Indeed, it was the only time such a warrant had been so served during the nine years of Town Manager Hart’s employment in the respondent Town. Given that the Town had no experience with maintaining a search and seizure warrant in its records, it was reasonable to seek the opinion of counsel concerning whether such warrant was subject to mandatory disclosure. In light of these factors, the ten day period from the records request (December 9, 2014) to the records disclosure (December 19, 2014) did not violate the promptness requirement.
13. It is concluded that the respondents did provide the complainant with all the requested records that they maintained.
14. It is concluded that the respondents did not violate §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by failing to provide the requested records promptly.
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 September 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:
28 Grand Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Town Clerk, Town of Mansfield; and Town of Mansfield
c/o James P. Welsh, Esq.
O’Malley, Deneen, Leary, Messina & Oswecki
20 Maple Avenue
Windsor, CT 06095
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission