MARTIN A. GOULD v. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION et al., SC 18966
Judicial District of New Britain
Freedom of Information; Whether Arbitration Panel Conducting a Proceeding Pursuant to the Teacher Negotiation Act is a Public Agency Within the Meaning of § 1-200 (1); Whether Arbitration Proceeding a “Meeting” Within the Meaning of § 1-200 (2) that Must be Open to the Public. The plaintiff served as a member of an arbitration panel appointed pursuant to General Statutes § 10-153f of the Teacher Negotiation Act to conduct an arbitration proceeding concerning a contract dispute between the Torrington board of education and the teachers’ union. Jim Moore, a reporter for the Waterbury Republican-American, was denied access to the proceeding and he and the newspaper filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), alleging that the arbitration panel violated the open meeting provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The FOIC agreed that the arbitration panel violated the open meeting provisions of the FOIA. It first found that the arbitration panel was a committee of the state department of education and was therefore a public agency as contemplated by General Statutes § 1-200 (1) (A). In light of that finding, the FOIC stated that it was unnecessary to address the complainants’ argument that the arbitration panel was the “functional equivalent” of a public agency, but it found that, were the “functional equivalent” test applied, the arbitration panel would satisfy the test. It next determined that only portions of the arbitration proceeding involving discussions of strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining are excluded from the statutory definition of “meeting” under General Statutes § 1-200 (2) and that, here, the evidentiary portions of the arbitration proceeding did not involve discussions of strategy or negotiations. It thus ordered that the evidentiary portions of the arbitration proceeding be open to the public. The plaintiff appealed to the trial court, which upheld the FOIC’s decision and dismissed the appeal. The plaintiff appeals, claiming the arbitration panel is not subject to the FOIA because it is neither a committee of the department of education nor the functional equivalent of a public agency. The plaintiff also argues that, even assuming that the arbitration panel is a public agency, the arbitration proceeding here is not a “meeting” subject to the FOIA’s open meeting provisions. The plaintiff points out that “strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining” are excluded from the definition of “meeting” under the FOIA, and he argues that such strategy or negotiations are so pervasive throughout the arbitration proceeding here that no part of the proceeding need be open to the public.