Final Decision FIC2012-502
In the Matter of a Complaint by
Kate King and the Stamford Advocate,
||Docket #FIC 2012-502|
Water Pollution Control Authority, City of
Stamford; and City of Stamford,
May 8, 2013
The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on February 21, 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 September 14, 2012, the complainants appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by improperly convening in executive session on September 6, 2012. Specifically, the complainants alleged that the respondents:
a. failed to state the purpose of the executive session with sufficient
b. failed to identify all persons who attended the executive session.
3. Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides, in relevant part that “[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 1-225(f), G.S., provides: “A public agency may hold an executive session as defined in subdivision (6) of section 1-200, upon an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of such body present and voting, taken at a public meeting and stating the reasons for such executive session, as defined in section 1-200.”
5. It is found that the agenda of the meeting held on September 6, 2012, stated that the respondent Water Pollution Control Authority (“WPCA”) planned to enter executive session to discuss “pending legal matters.”
6. It is found that during the meeting, one member of the WPCA moved to enter executive session to discuss “pending legal matters.”
7. It is found that, upon the objection of the complainant King, who was in the audience, the member revised her motion, moving to enter executive session to discuss “legal strategy.”
8. It is found that another member then stated the reason for the executive session as “negotiations.”
9. It is found that a third member suggested that the executive session was for a discussion “concerning a personnel matter. A human resources matter.”
10. It is found that upon assurance from counsel that the motion was “appropriate,” the respondent WPCA voted to enter executive session.
11. This Commission has repeatedly stated that in order for the public to be fairly apprised of the business to be transacted during an executive session, the public agency must give some indication of the specific topic to be addressed, prior to convening such session. Therefore, descriptions such as “personnel,” “personnel matters,” “legal” or even “the appointment, employment, performance, evaluation, health, dismissal of a public officer or employee” are inadequate and do not state the reason for convening in executive session, within the meaning of §1-225(f), G. S.
12. In Durham Middlefield Interlocal Agreement Advisory Board v. FOIC et al., Superior Court, Docket No. CV 96 0080435, Judicial District of Middletown, Memorandum of Decision dated August 12, 1997 (McWeeny, J.), the court concluded that it was reasonable for the Commission to require something more detailed than “Executive Session Re: Possible Litigation.”
13. In Trenton E. Wright, Jr. v. First Selectman, Town of Windham, Docket #FIC 1990-048, the Commission found that the phrase "executive session - personnel matters" was too vague to communicate to the public what business would be transacted.
14. Similarly, in Carlson v. Board of Education, East Granby Public Schools, Docket #FIC2007-388 (March 12, 2008), the Commission found that the phrase “personnel matters” did not fairly and adequately apprise the public of the matters to be addressed in the proposed executive session.
15. It is found that, while the motion to enter executive session was under consideration, members of the audience, including the complainant, tried to guess the reason for the executive session, and asked the respondents whether the session was to discuss “the Derby matter” or a certain employee. It is found that the respondents told them that their guesses were not correct, but did not further elucidate the reason for the executive session.
16. It is found that the motion to enter executive session failed to identify with sufficient particularity the reason for the executive session.
17. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondents violated §1-225(f), G.S.
18. With respect to the complainant’s allegation that the respondents failed to identify all persons who attended the executive session, §1-231(a), G.S., provides:
At an executive session of a public agency, attendance shall be
limited to members of said body and persons invited by said body
to present testimony or opinion pertinent to matters before said
body provided that such persons' attendance shall be limited to the
period for which their presence is necessary to present such
testimony or opinion and, provided further, that the minutes of
such executive session shall disclose all persons who are in
attendance except job applicants who attend for the purpose of
being interviewed by such agency. (Emphasis added.)
19. It is found that the minutes of the September 6, 2012 meeting did not disclose all persons who were in attendance at the executive session; accordingly, it is concluded that the respondents violated §1-231, G.S., as alleged.
The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:
1. Forthwith, the respondents shall create minutes of the executive session of their meeting of September 6, 2012. Such minutes shall contain, at least, the names of all in attendance, items discussed, any motions, and a record of all votes, if any.
2. Henceforth, the respondent shall comply with §§1-225 and 1-231, G.S.
Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 8, 2013.
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:
Kate King and the Stamford Advocate
9A Riverbend Drive South
P.O. Box 4910
Stamford, CT 06907
Water Pollution Control Authority,
City of Stamford; and City of Stamford
c/o Michael G. Petrie, Esq.
Jorden Burt, LLP
175 Powder Forest Drive
Simsbury, CT 06089
Chris Dellaselva, Esq.
City of Stamford Corporation Counsel
Office of Legal Affairs, 9th Floor
888 Washington Boulevard
Stamford, CT 06904
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission