The Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission (the “Commission”) recently issued a number of decisions that reaffirmed principles of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which regularly confront Boards of Education.
In Baer v. Thompson Board of Education, FIC 2013-781, the Commission addressed the question of how many days an individual has to file a FOIA complaint. Specifically, the complainant contended that he had thirty business days, not thirty calendar days, in which to file a complaint pursuant to CGS §1-206(b)(1). The Commission rejected the complainant’s argument, noting that had the legislature intended for business days to be utilized in calculating the appeal period it would have expressly done so, and held that the statute requires that a complaint be filed within thirty calendar days of the alleged FOIA violation.
Another Commission decision addressed the commonly made claim that public agencies are required to provide requested documents within “four business days.” In Smith v. Greater Hartford Transit District, FIC 2014-184, the Commission addressed a complaint that alleged that a FOIA violation occurred when the public agency delivered requested documents to the complainant one week after his request. The Commission held that it was “well settled” that the FOIA does not require “immediate access to records upon demand,” but only requires that records be provided “promptly.”
In examining the specific facts of the complaint, the Commission found that there was no “undue delay” in responding to the record request and, as a result, the requested records were provided “promptly” as required by law. Additionally, the Commission expressly stated that the four business day requirement “simply provides a requester with the ability to file an appeal in the event an agency fails to respond to the request” within this time period. The law presumes that such a non-response is deemed a denial for purposes of triggering the right to file an appeal “without having to wait definitely for a response.”
Finally, in Forenfio v. Connecticut Classified Employees’ Retirement Fund, FIC 2014-084, the Commission addressed a complaint concerning an impromptu and unnoticed meeting involving three of the six members of the respondent Board. Specifically, two members of the Board had met with a newly appointed member to the Board prior to her first meeting. The Commission found that this gathering was only for a few minutes and solely for the purpose of introductions. Despite this finding of fact, the complainant alleged that the gathering itself, regardless of the nature of the discussion, was a violation of the FOIA. The Commission declined to accept the complainant’s interpretation of what constitutes a “meeting” pursuant to CGS §1-200(2), affirming that in order to constitute a “meeting” there must be a discussion or action of a matter over which the respondent Board had “supervision, control, jurisdiction or advisory power.”
Boards of Education should take note of these decisions when dealing with these common claims as to how quickly documents must be provided upon request and as to what constitutes an impromptu meeting of the Board.