FOI panel rules deer commission withheld hunting report
The FOIC did not levy any fines, issuing only an order that in the future the subcommittee must comply with state statutes regarding meeting notices and "promptness requirements" for public access to documents.
The complaint against the subcommittee was filed by Nancy Rice and Friends of Animals over subcommittee Chairman Chester Burley's refusal to release a draft report after discussing it at a public meeting last Oct. 12, and because the meeting, held on a legal holiday, was not posted until the Friday before.
According to the FOI Commission, that notice did not meet the requirement for 24 hours notice and the subcommittee violated the FOI Act by not providing prompt access to the draft report.
While Rice said Tuesday she is pleased with the FOI decision, she added, "Despite the fact that Chester Burley has moved out of town and is no longer part of this commission, the mess that he helped to create lives on and the commission is in the process of creating another committee to pick up where Burley left off. It's time for those in power to reign (sic) in this entire commission since it actively participated and contributed to the destructive process."
Controversial from the start, the subcommittee recommended, among other things, that the Conservation Commission allow limited hunting on certain town-owned properties in an effort to manage the growing deer population in town.
The commission subsequently changed its regulations late last year to allow the recommended hunting, though a permanent Deer Management Committee to regulate that hunting has not yet been established, nor has any hunting been allowed.
Public comment was not allowed at the subcommittee meetings, only at a public hearing last November.
"Friends of Animals is demanding that the vote from the Nov. 19, 2009, public hearing be overturned," Rice said. "Let's start over, this time allow for a fair and equal process. After all, innocent lives are at stake and deserve as much."
But Saxl said the FOI decision is no reason to overturn the decision of the full Conservation Commission. "The subcommittee took no action at the meeting where the draft was discussed," Saxl said. "It was subsequently ratified at another meeting, and the public did have the opportunity to be heard, but all that did was turn the report over to the Conservation Commission."
He also noted that the draft report was released four days after the October meeting where it was discussed, thanks in part to the intervention of First Selectman Kenneth Flatto.
In an e-mail to both Saxl and Burley, Flatto said once the draft was discussed at a public meeting "at that point it is a public document. This is a fact ... this is not a choice." Flatto also wrote in the e-mail: "The town does not need this kind of bad press ... what was this subcommittee chairman thinking?"