Commissioners’ walk at wetland site held to be a meeting
CONNECTICUT — An environmental “site walk” by wetland commissioners was a meeting that the public was entitled to attend unconditionally, a superior court ruled in early March.
The walk was subject to the open meetings law because a quorum of the commission was present and commission business was conducted, the unreported decision said. Specifically, the commissioners’ discussion of soil and vegetation on property that was subject to a pending application constituted commission business, the court said.
The case began when a member of the public, Robert Munhall, attended a Lebanon Inland Wetlands Commission field inspection in August 1991. His attendance prompted guidelines, stating that commission members should advise property owners that members of the public have no authority to be on private property for a site walk, and are trespassing unless granted permission. At subsequent site walks in October, the commissioners put these guidelines into effect.
Munhall filed a complaint with the Freedom of Information Commission, which ruled in September 1992 that the site walks are meetings, and the commission could not impose a condition on Munhall’s attendance.
The Inland Wetlands Commission contended it did not have the authority to either deny or permit public attendance at site walks because the town’s insurance does not cover members of the public on private property.
The Freedom of Information Commission and Munhall argued that the Inland Wetlands Commission policy violated the open meetings law provision, stating that no member of the public is required to fulfill any condition to attending a meeting.
Ruling in favor of the Freedom of Information Commission, the superior court noted its decision was consistent with the commission’s previous determinations that “site trips” and “inspection trips” are meetings.
(Lebanon Inland Wetlands Commission v. Freedom of Information Commission; FOIC Counsel: Mitchell Pearlman, Hartford)