OLD SAYBROOK – First Selectman Michael Pace said those who have claimed that the town was breaking Freedom of Information Act laws are “trying to mislead the public” and insisted that the town was following the law despite claims by Democrat Matthew Rubin.
In a letter to the Freedom of Information Commission, Rubin claimed the town filed 32 out of 49 agendas for Board of Selectmen meetings late and filed 43 out of 50 minutes late.
Freedom of Information Act Sec. 1-225 specifies regulations regarding filing of agendas and minutes.
FOI Commission attorney Hank Pawlowski said that town commissions must file meeting agendas no less than 24 hours in the agency’s office “where someone can see it”, such as on a bulletin board.
Pawlowski said it was not required to file agendas at the Town Clerk’s Office but a new law on October 1, 2007 creates that requirement.
Board of Selectmen Executive Assistant Roland Laine said the town posts agendas inside and outside the Town Clerk’s Office at least 24 hours in advance.
Laine said agendas filed one day before meetings were done so before 10 a.m. while Rubin claims those agendas were filed the afternoon before the meeting.
The Town Clerk’s Office date stamps agendas and there is no time stamp.
While Laine admitted the agenda for the March 29, 2007 8:30 p.m. meeting, was stamped the same day as the meeting, he showed a computer printout time stamp showing the file was created two days prior.
Town Attorney Michael Cronin said that as long as the Selectmen’s office had the agenda 24 hours in advance of the meeting, it is not a violation of FOI law.
During that meeting, selectmen authorized bonds for the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and the emergency communications system, both of which were approved by residents in a referendum earlier that day.
Both motions were reaffirmed by selectmen at the Sept. 20 Board of Selectmen meeting.
Regarding minutes, Pawloski explained that municipal commissions must make “available” a copy of minutes within 48 hours of meetings where votes are taken and within seven days for other meetings.
Being made “available” is interpreted loosely, Pawloski said, confirming that a commission is not required to file them with the Town Clerk’s Office, though that is the standard practice for most towns.
Pawloski said towns are required to have minutes in “draft form” in the commission’s office and that notes taken during a meeting are defined as a draft.
Laine said drafts are available to the public immediately after a meeting and it has been common practice for minutes to be filed at the Town Clerk’s Office within seven days.
However, the Board of Selectmen’s internal review revealed that between January 2006 and August 2007, the Town Clerk’s Office received 39 meeting minutes after the seven day period.
Pace explained that even if they were filed with the Town Clerk’s Office within seven days, they are still in draft form since they are not finalized until voted on by the selectmen at the next meeting, approximately 14 days later.
As a result of the internal review, the Board of Selectmen has appointed Land Use Department clerk Janet Vinciguerra as clerk for meetings.
Laine said efforts will be made to have minutes filed more promptly with the Town Clerk’s Office and posted on the town’s Web Site.
While there is no legal obligation for towns to post agendas and minutes on their Web sites, Pawlowski said that it is being encouraged by the FOI Commission.
Pawlowski expects a law to be drafted next year requiring towns to post agendas on their Web sites but admits towns typically do not support more stringent requirements.
Democrat Dan Moran, who is running against Pace for First Selectman in the November election, called the hiring of the clerk and the recent filing of minutes in a more timely fashion “all good first steps, but they are only first steps.”
Moran is recommending the Board post agendas and minutes on the town Web site in addition to public places with weekend and evening hours such as the Acton Public Library and the Estuary Council of Seniors.