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Final Decision FIC2012-101
In the Matter of a Complaint by
FINAL DECISION
Christopher Collibee and
WFSB Channel 3,
     Complainants
     against
Docket #FIC 2012-101
Mayor, Town of East Haven; and
Town of East Haven,
     Respondents
November 14, 2012

     The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on August 16, 2012, at which time the complainants and the respondents 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 respondents are public agencies within the meaning of §1-200(1), G.S.
     2.  By letter filed February 21, 2012, the complainants appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying public access to a meeting of the respondent mayor on February 14, 2012. 
     3.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part:  “The meetings of all public agencies … shall be open to the public…”
     4.  Section 1-200(2), G.S., in relevant part, defines “meeting” as:
          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” does not include: … an administrative or staff meeting of a single-member public agency…
     5.  It is found that on February 14, 2012 the respondent mayor conducted a ceremony in which he administered the oath of office to the respondent town’s new interim chief of police.

     6.  The respondents claim that the swearing-in ceremony was an administrative meeting of a single-member public agency, and therefore not a meeting within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.
     7.  It is found that the respondents described the swearing-in in a press release published prior to the event as “a private ceremony with [the interim chief’s] family and friends.”  It is found that, in fact, no family and friends were present; instead, the ceremony was attended by the mayor’s press aide, town counsel, a public relations agent, the town’s acting police chief, the former police chief of Branford, and the new interim chief.
     8.  It is found that the complainants sought access to the ceremony, but the respondents refused to permit any members of the public to attend.
     9.  It is found that the respondents held a press conference following the oath of office ceremony.
     10.  It is found that the mayor is a single-member public agency within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S. 
     11.  It is found that the town charter expressly grants the mayor the power to appoint and to remove the Chief of Police.
     12.  It is found that the administration of the oath of office to the chief of police is “a matter over which the [mayor] has supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power,” within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.
     13.  The respondents’ witness testified that the administration of the oath of office was “informal,” and nothing more than “a legal formality.”
     14.  The complainants contend, however, that it is of fundamental importance to the public to have the right to attend and observe the occasion in which a powerful public official affirms his or her obligation to protect and serve the community and to uphold the laws of Connecticut and the United States.
     15.  It is found that the swearing-in ceremony of the Chief of Police, contrary to the assertions of the respondents, was not a routine matter related to the daily administration of the mayor’s office; Mary Ann Dostaler v. Board of Education, East Hampton Public Schools; Docket #FIC 2010-126 (February 9, 2011); rather, the ceremony was a substantive and significant executive action whereby the mayor, as the representative of the people of the Town of East Haven, vested the new chief with the powers of the office.
     16.  It is found, therefore, that the February 14, 2012 ceremony described in paragraph 6, above, was not an administrative or staff meeting of the mayor. 
     17.  It is found that the swearing-in ceremony constituted a proceeding, within the meaning of §1-200(2), G.S.; and it is concluded that the proceeding was a meeting subject to the FOI Act.
     18.  It is concluded that the respondents violated the FOI Act by denying public access to the meeting.  See Caffery v. Portland Volunteer Fire Department; Docket #FIC 1987-003(May 13, 1987) (swearing in of new members and officers of volunteer fire department subject fully to open meetings provisions of FOI Act).
     The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

     1. Henceforth, the respondents shall strictly comply with open meetings requirements of §1-225, G.S.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of November 14, 2012.
__________________________
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:
Christopher Collibee and
WFSB Channel 3
c/o Eric S. Parker, Esq.
333 Capital Blvd.
Rocky Hill, CT  06067
Mayor, Town of East Haven; and
Town of East Haven
Joseph H. Zullo, Esq.
Zullo and Jacks, LLC
83 Main Street
East Haven, CT  06512

____________________________
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC/2012-101/FD/cac/11/14/2012