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Government service organization not subject to FOI Act

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Government service organization not subject to FOI Act 12/02/96 CONNECTICUT--A Superior Court in Hartford ruled in mid-October that an organization…

Government service organization not subject to FOI Act

12/02/96

CONNECTICUT–A Superior Court in Hartford ruled in mid-October that an organization that provides training and other services to government employees is not a “public agency” as defined by the state Freedom of Information Act and is not subject to the law’s disclosure provisions.

In an administrative appeal from the state Freedom of Information Commission, the court held that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) is not the functional equivalent of a public agency, but is more like a private contractor or trade association.

The court, in determining that CCM does not perform government functions, noted that CCM provides educational and informational programs and materials to public officials and employees for a fee. The programs are designed to enhance employees professional skills and “do not replace tasks or functions traditionally performed by government.” Moreover, the court held, CCM does not receive direct government funding, it is not regulated or controlled by a governmental body, and it was not created by the government.

In February 1994, a union representing state employees requested documents relating to CCM’s business meetings and membership under the state Freedom of Information Act. CCM refused the request on the ground that it was not a public agency as defined by the Act and therefore not subject to its disclosure requirements. The union appealed the refusal to the Freedom of Information Commission which agreed with CCM’s position. The union then appealed to the state superior court.

The court affirmed the Commission’s ruling and noted that CCM is a voluntary association. It is self-directed and “could close its operations at any time without the consent or approval of any government or government agency.” Thus, the court held, CCM is not subject to the state FOI Act.

The court concluded that CCM “is in reality a trade association for mayors and municipalities” and to subject CCM to the requirements of the Act “would, at a minimum, severely restrict and, at a maximum, render impossible the functioning of the organization.” (American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. Connecticut Freedom of information Commission; Requestors’ Counsel: J. William Gagne, Jr., Wethersfield)