WALLINGFORD — Wallingford Center Inc. will not appeal a proposed decision by the state Freedom of Information Commission thats finds the organization is a public agency and subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
“We will comply with the decision,” WCI President Steven Lazarus said Wednesday. “… Frankly, the process has been a distraction to doing the work that is important to us and we don’t intend to prolong it.”
Wallingford Center Inc. 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.
In April 2014, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein filed a complaint with the state commission, detailing why he believes WCI is a public entity and should make meeting minutes, agendas and other documents public. WCI’s refusal to turn over documents to Fishbein prompted the complaint.
The proposed ruling was written by Paula Pearlman, who presided during a January hearing that included oral and written testimony by Fishbein and officials from WCI and the town. Now that Pearlman has issued her findings, the full commission will vote on a final decision at a meeting April 8.
If the commission votes to uphold Pearlman’s decision, WCI will have to give Fishbein copies of the requested documents and comply with all other state freedom-of-information rules. The commission rarely overturns a proposed decision.
Lazarus sent an email to Fishbein Wednesday saying he expects the documents he requested to be prepared by April 15.
“I’m happy to see them acquiescing after months of litigation and hours of hearing testimony,” Fishbein said Wednesday. “I’m disappointed that we had to go through all of this to get to this point, but I look forward to the commission affirming the hearing officer’s decision on April 8.”
Pearlman’s report details the evidence submitted during the hearing and explains that WCI meets most of the criteria of the functional equivalent test for a public agency. The ruling states that WCI performs governmental functions, receives substantial government funding and in-kind services, and that governmental involvement with the organization is significant.
“It is found that fostering economic revitalization and development are governmental functions and the respondents (WCI) are performing those functions,” the report states.
While WCI wasn’t created by government — a point Fishbein conceded — Pearlman wrote that “all relevant factors are to be considered cumulatively, with no single factor being essential or conclusive.”
“Accordingly, it is concluded that (WCI) violated (state statute), when they failed to provide the complainant with copies of the requested minutes, and failed to notice and post minutes of their meetings,” the report states.