Final Decision FIC2013-029
In the Matter of a Complaint by
||Docket #FIC 2013-029|
Chairman, Board of Assessment
Appeals, City of Stamford; and Board
of Assessment Appeals, City of
October 23, 2013
The above-captioned matter was consolidated for hearing with Docket #FIC 2013-028; Frank Vartulli v. Director of Legal Affairs, City of Stamford; and City of Stamford, and was heard as a contested case at consolidated hearings on September 17, 2013. At the hearing, 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)(A), G.S.
2. It is found that by letter dated December 17, 2012, the complainant requested “all documents explaining the basis of any criteria, guidelines, price schedules, formulas or statement of procedures used in the assessment appeals of 70 Rippowam Road for the years 2009 through 2011” (the “requested records”).
3. It is found that by letter dated December 21, 2012, the respondents acknowledged the request and stated that it “is unclear in your request as to information this Board may be able to supply.” The letter also offered an opportunity to “come in to review the appeal files” and provided a contact name and telephone number. At the hearing, the complainant stated that he did not receive this letter, although it was properly addressed.
4. It is found that, by letter dated January 14, 2013 and filed with the Commission on January 22, 2013, the complainant appealed to the Commission, attaching a copy of his request letter, and alleging that the respondents violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).
5. It is found that the complainant and the respondents have been parties to a dispute concerning the assessment of the property at 70 Rippowam Road since 2006 and a tax appeal is now pending in Superior Court. Since 2006, the complainant has met with the Tax Assessor on two occasions as well as the Director of Legal Affairs. The dispute was reviewed by the Director of Administration, the City’s most senior official below the Mayor. Following the December 17, 2012 records request, the complainant met with a representative of Vision Government Solutions, Inc., an independent contractor that calculated assessments for the City. As a result of this process, the assessment of 70 Rippowam Road was reduced by 17 percent as of October 1, 2012 compared to October 1, 2007.
6. It is also found that the parties have engaged in extended correspondence concerning the assessment of the property at 70 Rippowam Road. Specifically, on December 2, 2010, the assessor’s office responded to the request of the complainant, providing comparable sales data. On January 24, 2011, the Tax Assessor responded to the complainant’s letter of December 28, 2010, stating that his “staff has met with you on various occasions…[and has] reviewed the assessment….” On February 9, 2011, the Director of Administration provided forms and outlined the steps to appeal assessment decisions. The assessor’s card for 70 Rippowam Road has been provided to the complainant.
7. It is further found that on June 27, 2011, the chairman of the Board of Assessment Appeals responded to a written request by the complainant that seems identical to the request at issue in this case. The chairman characterized the complainant’s request as a request for “a written narrative description of data and information explaining the basis of any criteria, guidelines, price schedules, formulas or statement of procedure” used in the revaluation revision of 70 Rippowam Road for the years 2006 through 2011. The chairman’s response stated it is “beyond the scope of this Board to provide a written narrative.” On August 18, 2011, the Tax Assessor sent a similar letter to the complainant. Again on September 13, 2011, the Tax Assessor sent the complainant a second response following a second request for “a written narrative.” On November 16, 2011, the Tax Assessor responded to the complainant’s November 10, 2011 letter, seeking clarification whether the complainant was seeking “raw data” or explanatory materials.
8. It is found that the respondents do not maintain records that provide the explanation sought in the complainant’s request. If such records exist, they are the property of Vision Government Solutions, Inc., which, as noted above, calculated assessments for the City. The Commission has had a line of cases holding that the formula, or set of calculations, that an independent contractor uses to establish assessments is the proprietary property of the independent contractor. Docket #FIC 2009-223; Betts Island Oyster Farms, LLC v. Office of the Tax Assessor, City of Norwalk; Docket #FIC 2009-244; Audrey Cole v. Office of the Assessor, Town of Sharon. These cases, based on the trade secret exemption at §1-210(b)(5), G.S., were recently reaffirmed by Docket #FIC2012-701; Saluga v. Assessor, Town of Brookfield; and Town of Brookfield, another case involving Vision Government Solutions, Inc.
9. 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.
10. 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.
Any person applying in writing shall receive, promptly upon request, a plain, facsimile, electronic or certified copy of any public record.
11. It is concluded that the requested records, if any exist, are “public records” within the meaning of §§1-200(5), 1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S.
12. Based on the foregoing, it is concluded that the respondents did not violate §§1-210(a) and 1-212(a), G.S., when they stated that it “is unclear in your request as to information this Board may be able to supply.”
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 October 23, 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:
3151 High Ridge Road
Stamford, CT 06903
Chairman, Board of Assessment Appeals, City of
Stamford; and Board of Assessment Appeals,
City of Stamford
c/o Burt Rosenberg, Esq.
Chris Dellaselva, Esq.
Office of Legal Affairs
888 Washington Blvd.
P.O. Box 10152
Stamford, CT 06904
Cynthia A. Cannata
Acting Clerk of the Commission