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City of Meriden v. Freedom of Information Commission

Appellate Court of Connecticut

August 6, 2019

CITY OF MERIDEN et al.
v.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al.

         Argued May 14, 2019

         Appeal from Superior Court, Judicial District of New Britain, Henry Cohn, Judge Trial Referee, 2018 WL 1041640, dismissed. City appealed.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Deborah Leigh Moore, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

         Valicia Dee Harmon, commission counsel, for the appellee (defendant Freedom of Information Commission).

         Prescott, Moll and Bishop, Js.

          OPINION

         BISHOP, J.

         [191 Conn.App. 650] The plaintiffs, the city of Meriden and the Meriden City Council (city council), appeal from the judgment of the trial court dismissing their appeal from the final decision of the defendant Freedom of Information Commission (commission), in which the commission found that the city council violated the open meeting requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), General Statutes § 1-200 et seq., specifically

Page 850

General Statutes § 1-225 (a).[1] On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the court erred in concluding that (1) a gathering of less than a quorum of city council members to set an agenda and decide to submit a resolution for action by the full city council constituted a "meeting" under § 1-200 (2), and (2) such a gathering constituted "a step in the process of agency-member activity" that made it a "proceeding" and, therefore, a "meeting" within the meaning of § 1-200 (2). We reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On [191 Conn.App. 651] January 3, 2016, the four political leaders of the city council, i.e., the majority and minority leaders and their deputies (leadership group), gathered at city hall with the mayor and the retiring city manager to discuss the search for a new city manager.[2] The leadership group arrived at a consensus to submit a resolution for action by the city council to create a city manager search committee. The leadership group drafted a one page resolution, which included the names of people to be appointed to the committee and detailed the duties of such committee, including recommending to the city council suitable candidates for the city manager position. At the January 19, 2016 city council meeting, the leadership group introduced the resolution, which subsequently was placed on the council’s consent calendar.

         On January 25, 2016, an editor for the Meriden Record Journal[3] filed a complaint with the commission alleging that the January 3, 2016 leadership group gathering was an unnoticed and private meeting in violation of § 1-225 (a).[4] Following a hearing on April 18, 2016, at which both parties appeared and presented evidence, the commission issued a final decision on November 16, 2016. In that decision, the commission found that the leadership [191 Conn.App. 652] group "gather[s] regularly with the mayor and city manager" to remain informed about issues that the city council may need to address. During these gatherings, the group "decides whether an issue requires city council action, and when necessary ... discusses and drafts a resolution to go on the agenda of a city council meeting." The commission also found that such gatherings are not intended to constitute a quorum of the city council, which requires a meeting of at least ...


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