SOUTHINGTON — A hearing officer recommended that the state Freedom of Information Commission dismiss a complaint against town councilors filed last year by Democrat John Moise, a former finance board member.
In a draft decision released Friday, hearing officer Tracie Brown said only Republicans attended a caucus meeting on Aug. 1 and only campaign-related matters were discussed. Moise’s complaint alleged that Republicans attended the meeting in person but then called Democratic Councilor Dawn Miceli for her views on the town manager’s appointment.
Brown said he found only Republicans attended or participated in the Aug. 1 meeting. The gathering was a caucus and not a meeting subject to FOI rules.
“It is concluded, therefore, that the respondents did not violate the open meetings provisions of the FOI Act as alleged by the complainant,” Brown wrote.
Moise presented his case to the hearing officer in October. He quoted a news article which contained a quote from former councilor Paul Champagne that, according to Moise, showed Miceli was called during the Republicans’ meeting.
The caucus took place in the offices of Michael Fasulo, who has a business next door to Councilor Michael Riccio, who was town council chairman at the time. After the meeting, Riccio said he went to his office alone to make the call to Miceli.
All the Republicans at the meeting said she was called after the session. Miceli said she didn’t believe her telephone conversation with Riccio took place during the meeting.
Republicans at the time blasted Moise’s complaint, saying it was an election-year ploy. Riccio said Moise only had “assumptions” and “surmises,” but no facts to prove that Micelli was called during the meeting.
Moise ran unsuccessfully for re-election to the Board of Finance in November. He was appointed by the newly elected Democratic council majority to the Board of Fire Commissioners in December.
Champagne said he was pleased with the ruling and not surprised.
“John Moise was the only one convinced it was a meeting” and not a caucus, Champagne said. “A month before the election, how do you play it? Make them look bad even if it’s not true. He’s had many FOI complaints that have gone the same path.”
Moise said the caucus was a “loophole” in a disclosure law that allowed Republicans to make decisions behind closed doors. He’s still convinced the town manager’s appointment wasn’t handled properly, but said testimony given at the FOI hearing didn’t back up his case.
“To me, they won on a technicality based on the interviews,” he said.
Moise said he’s filed two previous FOI complaints, winning a 2002 complaint over the release of town documents.
The FOI commission will consider the case for disposition on Feb. 14.