WALLINGFORD — Earlier this month, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein won his Freedom of Information case against Wallingford Center Inc. He is now seeking to re-open the case and have the Freedom of Information Commission impose a fine against WCI.
State statute allows fines of up to $1,000 for “unreasonable refusal to produce records that fall under the Freedom of Information Act,” Fishbein said Monday.
He is asking the commission to impose a fine of not less than $20 and not more than $1,000.
“… (WCI has) not only failed to provide the validity of their denial, but their excuse(s) for non-compliance could best be described as absurd,” Fishbein wrote in a March 25 letter. “It is the very conduct for which the legislature gave this Commission the power to levy a civil penalty. Ultimately, the Commission should never condone the flaunting of the law as the Respondents herein have done, and thus a civil penalty of the highest degree authorized by the legislature is not only warranted, but probably necessary to send a clear message to the Respondents, as well as others tempted to follow a similar path.”
Fishbein filed a complaint with the commission after Wallingford Center Inc. refused to provide him with meeting minutes and agendas.
WCI President Steve Lazarus did not return a call for comment Monday.
Last month, Paula Pearlman, who presided during a January hearing, wrote a proposed decision that said WCI would have to provide Fishbein copies of the minutes he requested, as well as comply with the Freedom of Information Act. The commission voted unanimously to adopt the report at an April 8 meeting.
Pearlman’s report does not mention a fine.
Because the commission already voted, the case is considered closed, said FOI Public Education Officer Tom Hennick.
“I’ve never seen it done, but Attorney Fishbein can send a letter asking to please reconsider,” Hennick said Monday. “That can reopen the case, but I’ve never seen that happen.”
Having WCI pay a civil penalty fee would send a message to other public agencies, Fishbein said Monday.
“The whole reason why it’s there is to prevent others from taking a similar dilatory, obstructionist track in denying the public information that it is entitled to,” he said.
WCI is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is the “beautification, preservation, promotion and economic revitalization of Wallingford’s center,” according to its website. The group is best known for its annual Celebrate Wallingford festival. It receives more than three-quarters of its funding from the town — a total of $84,650 this year. The organization requested $84,000 for the next fiscal year, according to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s proposed town budget.
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