Last night Phil Hart, the chairman of the Region 1 Board of Education, mentioned that a Freedom of Information Act complaint was filed against the region and then dismissed, but he failed to give any further information about it. In order to provide full transparency to the public, here is the entire FOIA complaint that was filed, which was a complaint against Superintendent Patricia Chamberlain, not the Region 1 Board of Education, for failing to provide Gale Toensing with documents regarding “Aeron Watson.” The superintendent ultimately did provide the documents — more than three months after they were oringally requested — and on the advice of FOI Commission Public Educator Tom Hennick Gale withdrew the complaint. Below are all the documents that Gale filed. They are all public documents. The top email is the last in the chain…also, email addresses have been deleted and names substituted for privacy concerns
To:FOI CTSent: Monday, June 04, 2012 4:39 PMSubject: Appeal of denial to recordsDear Commissioners
I am writing to ask the Commission to determine if the “access to public documents” provision of the Freedom of Information Act has been violated by Region 1 Superintendent of Schools Patricia Chamberlain, who has denied me access to records after initially agreeing to provide them.
This case may be a precedent-setting case for the Commission since it involves records maintained on the servers of a public agency. It’s a complicated case and I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to explain the background and why I am requesting these records.
Here are the facts and background to my appeal:
I am the duly elected representative on the Region 1 Board of Education for the Town of Canaan (Falls Village). The board is composed of six members — one from each of the six towns in the region — who oversee the policies and finances of the Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Pupil Services and the Regional School Services Center (the administration).
- On February 16, 2011, an “Aeron Watson” using the email address email@example.com sent an email with the subject line “Board Members Inappropriate actions (sic)” to all six board members and to Superintendent Chamberlain. The email was critical of me and made a number of unsubstantiated accusations, including that I had conducted “illegal meetings” by sending emails to the other board members. This email is attached as AeronWatsonFOI1.
- On March 27, 2011, “Aeron Watson,” using the same firstname.lastname@example.org address, sent another email to the same people and added Assistant Superintendent Diane Goncalves to the list of recipients. This letter accused me of exposing the board to legal liability, and other unsubstantiated allegations. Superintendent Chamberlain chose to include this March 27, 2011, email from “Aeron Watson” in the board packet for the April 4, 2011, meeting and distributed it to the local press, which wrote stories describing “Aeron Watson’s” allegations about me. This email is attached as AeronWatsonFOI2.
- In February 2012, a Region 1 resident distributed documents to Region 1 administrators, board members and others from a website called EmailFinder, showing that the email address for email@example.com is registered to Scott Fellows, who gave his address as P.O. Box 1102, Canaan CT 06018 (which is the actually the Town of North Canaan) and his “home” as Falls Village, CT. Scott Fellows is a math teacher and head of the math department at Housatonic Valley Regional High School. The EmailFinder documents is attached as AeronWatsonEmailFinderFOI3.
- Housatonic Valley Regional High School has a contract called “Faculty/Staff Acceptable Internet Use Policy” that all members of the faculty and staff must sign in order to use the Internet service at the school. Item 6 of the contract says, “Use of the Internet for any illegal activities is prohibited. Illegal activities include libel, unauthorized entry into computers, or deliberate vandalism or destruction of computer files.” Item 8 of the contract says, “Impersonation and anonymity are not permitted. Users must take responsibility for their actions and words.” The Faculty/Staff Acceptable Internet Use Policy is attached as InternetAcceptableUseFOI4.The bulleted items above complete the background.There has been much controversy over the refusal on the part of the administrators and some board members to investigate or require accountability in the “Aeron Watson” case or even to acknowledge “Aeron Watson’s” identity. Since it appears that a violation of an established high school policy has occured and since the possiblity of further legal action exists, I think it’s important to address this issue and that’s why I submitted an FOI Act request to the superintendent for a search of the high school and central office servers in an effort to provide more evidence of “Aeron Watson’s” identity through his Internet activity.Reading from the bottom of the email string below, on April 9 I emailed Superintendent Chamberlain requesting “copies of any and all electronic communications (emails) retained on those servers that have been sent or received by “Aeron Watson” from January 1, 2009, to the present.”Ms. Chamberlain replied on April 10 that she would “be happy to locate any information we might have for you. As the scope is over a period of 3 years, it will take some time to review the high school server and individual computer records you have requested. It should not take long to check the Central Office computers. I am out of the office, but will ask M. Curtis to begin to check the computers for possible “Aeron Watson” emails.”A series of back and forth emails between Superintendent Chamberlain and myself took place on April 13, May 2, May 7, May, 8, May 18 (see below), and a letter through the post from the superintendent to me on May 18, attached as FOIrespPC052423FOI5.In her response of May 7, below, Superintendent Chamberlain said she had found the two “Aeron Watson” letters in central office computers. In her response letter of May 18, attached, the superintendent said that the high school technology team was spending two hours a week on my request. These responses led me to think that the superintendent may have instructed a search of people’s computers for emails only, rather than the servers for all activity by “Aeron Watson,” which would take less than an hour to conduct. So in a May 15 email (below) to Superintendent Chamberlain, I revised my request to read “conduct a search of the servers. . .for documentary evidence of any and all Internet activity by ‘Aeron Watson’ from January 1, 2011 to the present.”Superintendent Chamberlain received and opened my revised request around 7 a.m. on May 22, see attached ChamberlainEmailReceiptFOI6, but she has not responded after nine business days, therefore, I am deeming her lack of response to be a denial of my request.According to the FOI Act, Sec. 1-211: “(a) Any public agency which maintains public records in a computer storage system shall provide, to any person making a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of any nonexempt data contained in such records, properly identified, on paper, disk, tape or any other electronic storage device or medium requested by the person, including an electronic copy sent to the electronic mail address of the person making such request, if the agency can reasonably make any such copy or have any such copy made. Except as otherwise provided by state statute, the cost for providing a copy of such data shall be in accordance with the provisions of section 1-212, as amended by Public Act 11-150.”Please determine if Superintendent Chamberlain violated the FOI Act by denying my request to search the high school and central office servers for Internet activity by “Aeron Watson.” I also ask, realizing full well how “consolidation” has burdened the work of the commission, if this request could possibly be expedited. The superintendent’s address is Patricia Chamberlain, Superintendent of Schools, Region 1 School District, 246 Warren Turnpike, Falls Village, CT 06031.Thank you.Yours truly~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~—– Original Message —–From: Gale Toensing GTTo:PCSent: Monday, May 21, 2012 8:39 PMSubject: REVISED FOI REQUEST Fw: Freedom of Information Act requestHi PatriciaThanks for your attached letter of May 15, which I received in the mail last Friday just minutes after I’d sent you the email below.I’m revising my request as follows:Please have our IT people — Gina or Jonathan — conduct a search of the servers used by the Housatonic Valley Regional High School and the Regional School Services Center for documentary evidence of any and all Internet activity by “Aeron Watson” from January 1, 2011, to the present.That means the search will not be for emails, but simply for a track of Internet activities in that name, and therefore, it won’t require a lengthy search for emails over weeks — in fact, it can probably be done in less than two hours.Once again I forgot to ask you today for the email letters you found on central office computers. I’m guessing they are the “Aeron Watson” letters that were sent last February and March. Could you please stick them in an envelope and leave it with Lucille and I’ll try to get there this week to pick them up?Thanks very much.~~ Gale—– Original Message —–From:Gale ToensingTo:PCSent: Friday, May 18, 2012 12:31 PMSubject: Re: Freedom of Information Act requestHi Patricia, I was planning to come and pick up the Aeron Watson emails you mention below in your May 7 email today, but Lucille said you aren’t in. Sorry for the delay in picking them up — I had every good intention to do so right away, but the past few weeks have been hectic going back and forth to the two-week UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues going on in NYC. So I will come and pick up the letters that were found on the central office computers on Monday. Meanwhile, I didn’t get a response from you to my email of May 8 below. I’m hoping that Gina and/or Jonathan will have completed their search of the high school and RSSC servers by now — those searches don’t take very long at all — and I hope to receive copies of whatever documents they may find on the servers by early next week.Thanks very much.~~ Gale—– Original Message —–From: Gale ToensingTo: PCCc:Judy Dixon, Lou Timolat, Pat Mechare
Sent: Tuesday, May 08, 2012 1:00 PMSubject: Re: Freedom of Information Act requestPatricia, thanks for your email and sorry for the delay in responding; I didn’t read it until just now. Am I correct in understanding by your email that you found the requested emails in people’s computers, that is, in their email inboxes or other places by searching the actualcomputer files? And that Gina will conduct a search of the high school and RSSC computer servers? If this is a correct understanding, could you please give me an estimated time when Gina and/or Jonathan will complete that task?I’ll try to come by and pick up what you found first thing Wednesday morning.Thanks very much.~~ Gale—– Original Message —–From:PCTo:Gale ToensingSent: Monday, May 07, 2012 11:47 AMSubject: Re: Freedom of Information Act request
Ms. Toensing,I have several emails from our computers in Central Office from Aeron Watson (which are two letters). There is nothing else either from or to Aeron Watson. You will be able to pick them up today. Gina is working through your request regarding servers. I check in weekly on the progress and will provide you with any material related to your request for January 2009 to present.PatriciaOn Wed, May 2, 2012 at 3:50 PM, Gale Toensing wrote:
Hi PatriciaI’m writing to find out the status of my request for our certified IT people — Jonathan and Gina — to search the high school and RSSC servers for copies of any and all communications sent to or received by “Aeron Watson.” To clarify, I’m not asking for a search of people’s computers, but of the servers that process everyone’s Internet usage. My request was sent on April 9. Please let me know if you intend to fulfill my request as per your email of April 10 and when the documents that I believe are on the server can be delivered to me.Thank you.~~ Gale
From: Gale Toensing
To: “Patricia Chamberlain
Cc: “Jonathan Moore” , “Luara Freund”, “Marilyn Yerks” , “Phil Hart”, “William Tedder” ,Judy Dixon “Pat Mechare” “Matthew Harnett” “Gary Brochu”
Sent: Friday, April 13, 2012 6:55:01 AM
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information Act request
Thanks for your prompt response and apologies for the delay in getting back to you.
It would be inappropriate to have anyone from “central office” do the server search for two reasons: That task should be done by our certified IT people who have the expertise and also it would be better to have a neutral party do the search to avoid a perceived conflict of interest in having a “central office” staffer do it.
Hope you’re having a wonderful spring break — it’s certainly been a beautiful week for it.
From: “Patricia Chamberlain”
To: “Gale Toensing”
Cc: “Jonathan Moore” , “Luara Freund” , “Marilyn Yerks” <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Phil Hart” , “William Tedder” , Judy Dixon, “Pat Mechare” “Matthew Harnett” , “Diane Goncalves” , “Gary Brochu” , “Ross Grannan” , “Becky Hurlburt” , “Tracy Horosky” , “Dolores Perotti” , “Brian Bartram” , “Electra Tortorella”
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:08:18 PM
Subject: Re: Freedom of Information Act request
Ms. Toensign,I am in receipt of your FOIA request and will be happy to locate any information we might have for you. As the scope is over a period of 3 years, it will take some time to review the high school server and individual computer records you have requested. It should not take long to check the Central Office computers. I am out of the office, but will ask M. Curtis to begin to check the computers for possible “Aeron Watson” emails.Welcome back,PatriciaOn Mon, Apr 9, 2012 at 11:58 AM, Gale Toensing wrote:
Patricia,This request is made under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).Please conduct a search of the servers used by the Housatonic Valley Regional High School and the Regional School Services Center and provide me with copies of any and all electronic communications (emails) retained on those servers that have been sent or received by “Aeron Watson” from January 1, 2009, to the present. This request is made pursuant, but not limited to, the following section of the Freedom of Information Act:Sec. 1-211. (Formerly Sec. 1-19a). Disclosure of computer-stored public records. Contracts. Acquisition of system, equipment, software to store or retrieve nonexempt public records. (a) Any public agency which maintains public records in a computer storage system shall provide, to any person making a request pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of any nonexempt data contained in such records, properly identified, on paper, disk, tape or any other electronic storage device or medium requested by the person, including an electronic copy sent to the electronic mail address of the person making such request, if the agency can reasonably make any such copy or have any such copy made. Except as otherwise provided by state statute, the cost for providing a copy of such data shall be in accordance with the provisions of section 1-212, as amended by Public Act 11-150.Please note that the following section of the FOIA requires records to be retained under penalty of law:
Sec. 1-240. (Formerly Sec. 1-21k). Penalties. (a) Any person who wilfully, knowingly and with intent to do so, destroys, mutilates or otherwise disposes of any public record without the approval required under section 1-18 or unless pursuant to chapter 47 or 87l, or who alters any public record, shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and each such occurrence shall constitute a separate offense. (b) Any member of any public agency who fails to comply with an order of the Freedom of Information Commission shall be guilty of a class B misdemeanor and each occurrence of failure to comply with such order shall constitute a separate offense. (P.A. 75-342, §16; P.A. 79-631, §24; P.A. 82-l88, §2.)
According to the following section of the FOIA, I should be notified within four business days if my request is to be denied.
Sec. 1-206. (Formerly Sec. 1-21i). Denial of access to public records or meetings. Appeals. Notice. Orders. Civil penalty. Service of process upon commission. Frivolous appeals. (a) Any denial of the right to inspect or copy records provided for under section 1-210 shall be made to the person requesting such right by the public agency official who has custody or control of the public record, in writing, within four business days of such request, except when the request is determined to be subject to subsections (b) and (c) of section 1-214, in which case such denial shall be made, in writing, within ten business days of such request. Failure to comply with a request to so inspect or copy such public record within the applicable number of business days shall be deemed to be a denial.
Since subsections (b) and (c) of section 1-214 deal with records contained in an employee’s medical and personnel files, I believe the ten-day provision in the above section does not apply to my request. If you do decide to deny my request, please provide a citation in the FOIA other than 1-214 (b) and (c) for the denial.
Gale Courey Toensing
Falls Village representative on the Region 1 Board of Education