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Final Decision FIC2012-543
In the Matter of a Complaint by
FINAL DECISION
Lynelle Jones,
     Complainant
     against
Docket #FIC 2012-543
Office of the Tax Assessor,
City of Norwalk; and
City of Norwalk
     Respondents
May 22, 2013

     The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on March 1, 2013, at which time the complainant appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint, but the respondents did not appear at the hearing.  The hearing, which was scheduled to begin at 9:30 AM, was delayed until almost 10:00 AM so that it could be determined if counsel for the respondents was running late.  Shortly after the commencement of the hearing, the hearing officer was informed that counsel for the respondents was on the telephone requesting to appear at the hearing telephonically.  Counsel’s request was denied. 
     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, on September 18, 2012, the complainant went to respondent Tax Assessor’s office during regular business hours and requested access to the following records:  a) the minutes from the May 29, 2009 meeting of the Board of Assessment Appeals; b) the appraisal of her residential property, 10 Point Road, in Norwalk, Connecticut, performed by Sheeney Associates LLC; and c) all correspondence between the Office of the Tax Assessor and Bill Sheeney of Sheeney Associates LLC concerning 10 Point Road, in Norwalk, Connecticut.
 
     3.  By letter dated and filed October 4, 2012, the complainant appealed to this Commission, alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information (“FOI”) Act by denying her request for access to the records described in paragraph 2, above. 
     4.  Section 1-200(5), G.S., provides:
          “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.
     5.  Section 1-210(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that:
          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.
     6.  Section 1-212(a), G.S., provides in relevant part that “[a]ny person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain, facsimile, electronic or certified copy of any public record.”
     7.  Section 1-225(a), G.S., provides in relevant part as follows: 
 . . . The votes of each member of any such public agency upon any issue before such public agency shall be reduced to writing and made available for public inspection within forty-eight hours and shall also be recorded in the minutes of the session at which taken.  Not later than seven days after the date of the session to which such minutes refer, such minutes shall be available for public inspection . . . . Each public agency shall make, keep and maintain a record of the proceedings of its meetings.
     8.  It is found that the complainant has been involved in an ongoing dispute with the City of Norwalk over the value of her residential property.
     9.  In connection with the dispute, it is found that the complainant visited the respondents’ offices on September 18, 2013 to review the records described in paragraph 2, above. 
     10. It is found that, on September 18, 2012, the respondents did not provide the complainant with access to the records she wanted to review.  It is further found that, at such time, the respondents informed the complainant that they did not maintain any records responsive to her request, that such records were exempt from disclosure or that such records were archived.
     11. With regard to the complainant’s request for a copy of the minutes from the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”) described in paragraph 2.a, above, it is found that the BAA works under the auspices of the Office of the Tax Assessor.  It is found that, on May 29, 2009, the BAA held a hearing with regard to the complainant’s residential property and, after a vote by the membership, issued a decision. 
     12. It is found that the BAA’s action on May 29, 2009 should have resulted in both a record of the votes taken, which record should have been available for public inspection within forty-eight hours, as well as a record of the minutes from the May 29, 2009 hearing, which record should have been available for public inspection within seven days.  It is further found that such records should have been available for the complainant’s inspection on September 18, 2012 in the Office of the Tax Assessor. 
     13. With regard to the complainant’s request for a copy of the appraisal described in paragraph 2.b, above, it is found that, by invoice dated April 27, 2012, Sheehy Associates LLC submitted an invoice to the City of Norwalk’s legal department for payment of an appraisal it performed.  It is found that the invoice described the work performed as “Appraisal of 10 Point Road, Norwalk, CT -- Jones/Lipschutz Residence.”  It is found that the invoice was for payment of $1,500.00.
     14. It is further that, when the complainant sought access to the appraisal on September 18, 2012, the respondents informed her that she should be able to review such record, but that they did not have it. 
     15. It is found that the complainant was present when the appraiser took pictures both inside and outside of her residential property.  It is further found that, on May 3, 2012, the city approved the $1,500 payment to Sheehy Associates LLC for the appraisal.  It is therefore found that the Sheehy appraisal does exist. 
     16. It is found that the appraisal is a public record and that the complainant should have been given access to it. It is further found that, if the respondents have somehow misplaced their copy of the appraisal, they should certainly be able to request Sheehy Associates LLC provide them with another copy.
     17. With regard to the records described in paragraph 2.c, above, it is found that, to the extent that the Office of the Tax Assessor communicated in writing with Bill Sheehy about the appraisal or any other matter pertaining to10 Point Road in Norwalk, Connecticut, such communication is a public record, to which the complainant should have been given access. 
     18. It is concluded that that the respondents violated the disclosure provisions of §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., by denying the complainant’s request for access to the records described in paragraph 2, above.
     The following order by the Commission is hereby recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint.
     1. The respondents shall forthwith provide the complainants with a copy of the records described in paragraph 2 of the findings, free of charge. 
     2. In the event that the respondents do not maintain the minutes described in paragraph 2.a of the findings, they shall forthwith provide the complainant with an affidavit attesting to such fact.
     3. In the event that the respondents do not maintain the correspondence described in paragraph 2.c of the findings, they shall forthwith provide the complainant with an affidavit attesting to such fact.
     4. However, in the event that the respondents no longer maintain the appraisal, or documents and photographs related to the appraisal, described in paragraph 2.b of the findings, they shall forthwith communicate with Sheehy Associates LLC and arrange to obtain a copy of the appraisal, or documents and photographs related to the appraisal, which copy shall be provided to the complainant free of charge.

Approved by Order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of May 22, 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:
Lynelle Jones
10 Point Road
South Norwalk, CT  06854
Office of the Tax Assessor, City of Norwalk;
and City of Norwalk
c/o Brian L. McCann, Esq.
Office of the Corporation Counsel
125 East Avenue
P.O. Box 798
Norwalk, CT  06851

____________________________
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission
FIC/2012-543/FD/cac/5/22/2013