Carlson v. Town Administrator, Town of Vernon
Timely access to public records by persons seeking them is a fundamental right conferred by the Freedom of Information Act. Suzanne Carlson and the Manchester Journal Inquirer appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission on Sept. 30, 2011 alleging that the town of Vernon and its administrator violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to comply with their request to inspect a copy of an arbitration decision. The FOIC found that the complainants made a verbal request to inspect a copy of the decision at the town offices on Sept. 30, 2011. The administrator asked the complainants to put the request in writing, which they did, leaving it with a copy of a newspaper article reporting that the decision had been released to the press by the mayor. The respondents provided a digital copy of the requested record to the complainants by email dated Oct. 14, 2011. The FOIC found that the respondents' provision of the requested record two weeks after the initial request was not prompt within the meaning of C.G.S. §1-210(a) and §1-212(a) and that the respondents violated those provisions. The administrator testified that on the day the complainants made the request, it was the busiest day of the month when they were under pressure to meet a deadline to finalize their agenda for a monthly meeting. The responsibility of responding to FOIA requests was being transferred from the former town administrator to him which caused some delay. The FOIC noted that providing access to records is as much part of the agency's mission as other major functions. Although each agency must determine its own set of priorities in dealing with its responsibilities in it limited resources, providing access to public records should be considered one such priority. It should take precedence over routine work that has no immediate or pressing deadline. No evidence was offered that the respondents made a written request a condition precedent to fulfilling the request. The administrator indicated he wasn't sure of the arbitration's status and asked the complainants to put it in writing so he could make inquiries. The respondents were directed to strictly comply, henceforth, with the violated promptness provisions.