May 30, 2007
MEETINGS UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked if an opportunity for public comments held after a meeting is adjourned constitutes a meeting under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). You also wanted to know if someone attending the public comment session could film it and request the local cable company to televise it.
The Office of Legislative research is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be considered as one.
Whether a public comment period constitutes a meeting under FOIA depends on the subject matter being discussed and the people in attendance. If the comment period is a “meeting,” the local agency must comply with FOIA's provisions on notice and public access.
No law prohibits anyone attending the public comment session from recording it and submitting the recording to a local community access provider (i.e., the local cable company or a community-based nonprofit organization selected by the Department of Public Utilities and Control to provide community access programming). The provider has discretion to determine if or when to air the recording. However, any provider that decides to do so must air the entire recording without editing it except (1) for portions that are obscene or (2) as allowed by state or federal law (CGS § 16-331a).
DEFINITION OF MEETING UNDER FOIA
FOIA generally provides that any hearing or other proceeding of a public agency is a “meeting,” as is any gathering of a quorum of a multi-member public agency to discuss or act on any matter over which it has jurisdiction, control, or advisory power. This includes individual encounters among the people who make up a quorum, such as a series of telephone calls or a series of personal meetings. “Meetings” exclude, among other things, personnel search committee meetings to locate executive level employment candidates, unplanned chance or social meetings, collective bargaining strategy and negotiation sessions, or a single-member agency's administrative or staff meetings (CGS § 1-200 (2)).
FOIA MEETING REQUIREMENTS
The law recognizes three types of public meetings: regular, special, and emergency. All of them, including hearings or other proceedings, must be open to the public unless two-thirds of the members present vote to close it (i.e., go into executive session). The reasons for the executive session must be stated at the public meeting.
Each local agency must file a schedule of its regular meetings with clerks of all represented towns and each state agency with the secretary of the state before the end of January each year. No meeting may be held sooner than 30 days after the filing. The act specifies that the Joint Rules govern notice of General Assembly meetings.
Agencies must file notices of special meetings with the appropriate office(s) for public posting at least 24 hours in advance. They may hold emergency meetings without complying with these notice requirements, but must then file their minutes in the appropriate office within 72 hours. The minutes must describe the nature of the emergency.
Where practicable, the agency must mail a notice of its meetings at least a week before the meeting date (or less, if the meeting is called on less than a week's notice) to any person who has requested notification in writing. It may establish a reasonable charge for this service. Notice of a special or emergency meeting must be delivered to members' homes before the meeting. A member may waive this requirement at or before the meeting.
All agencies, except the General Assembly, must make their regular meeting agendas available at least 24 hours before the meeting. New business not on the agenda may be considered and acted on upon a two-thirds vote of members present and voting. Special and emergency meeting notices must specify to the members the business to be transacted, and no other matters may be considered.
For special meetings, Saturdays, Sundays, legal holidays, and days when offices are closed do not count in determining the required time for giving notice or having agendas ready. For regular meetings, only days when offices are closed do not count (CGS § 1-225).