Recently, Board of Finance member Jim Palen made a request for some financial data from the Board of Education, which led to a discussion between the two boards on whether or not the request was an official Board of Finance request, or simply made by Palen as an individual. That discussion was held via emails obtained by The Darien Times and also at a recent Operational Planning Committee meeting on May 23.

Further discussion was had as to how to treat the request when a board hadn't collectively voted on it and it was suggested it might be treated as an individual Freedom of Information request. There was also a conversation amongst town board heads the OPC meeting about board members interacting and this specific request from Palen.

You can watch this discussion at OPC courtesy Darien TV79, beginning at 4 minutes 15 seconds in, with the discussion about the Board of Finance and Jim Palen's request here. 

Here is Palen's initial request from the Board of Education on May 13:







As part of our board’s regular financial, planning, analysis and audit responsibilities we are reviewing the past few years of budgets for both the town and schools.


As such, we need the school’s finance team to provide the budgeted amount, transferred amount, adjusted budgeted amount and actuals (among other things) for each account for FY2017, FY2018 and FY2019 YTD.  We ask that it be provided in the exact same manner that the town provided it (see attached spreadsheet) so as to simplify our team’s work.


The report only takes a couple minutes to run and download into a spreadsheet (confirmed with Jenn [Charneski, town finance director]) and therefore it should not be a burden on the schools finance team.  In the event that Michael Feeney or his team has any questions about running the report, they can reach out to Jenn who just ran the report for us.






The Board of Education held its annual retreat on June 4. It discussed several different scenarios and how the Board of Education would handle them. As Schools' Attorney Tom Mooney of Shipman and Goodwin says, the Board of Finance request is the one scenario out of the four discussed that was not hypothetical. You can read all the scenario descriptions here. 

The discussion at the retreat begins at 1 hour, 39 minutes in this Darien TV 79 Vimeo recording. 

Following these discussions, The Darien Times asked a series of questions of each town board chairman and is reprinting each set of responses in their entirety:


Board of Education


Chairman Tara Ochman


If a member of another board were to ask for information from you/the town department that reports to you, how would you handle?

As a State agency The Board of Education does not have town department that reports  to it.

We do work with other Town Boards on a variety of issues as stated by law, including securing a financial appropriation for the District. We have been proud for the Town support of our responsible budgeting each year, including our “excellent transparency in accounting” as noted by BOF Chair John Zagrodzky in Jan 2019.

As a public agency the BOE  is committed to complying to informational requests as stated by law.

Does your board vote on informational requests or do you have informal discussion?

When the Board of Education receives information requests, the Superintendent and the Administration respond on behalf of the Board of Education, given that responses to information requests are an operational issue.

As a public agency the Board of Education does its work in public. 

 It is rare that the BOE would need to make a request  of another agency but discussions surrounding that would take place in the public domain.

If a member of your board were to ask another board for information, would you want your board to vote on it first?

If the Board of Education were making an information request, we would vote on making that request.  Our members recognize that their authority as BOE members is only in a meeting held in public. Individual members do not make independent or personal  requests on behalf of the public agency.  Individual members remain free, of course, to make information requests as individuals.

Do you consider or ask what the purpose of the request is or what the person requesting intends to use the information for before responding or fulfilling? (assuming this is public information?)

If the Board of Education were making a request, the need for the information would be part of the Board’s decision.  Public information is available to requesting parties under the FOIA laws. Intent is not a consideration under the FOIA in complying.  It could be asked as informational but it is not a deciding factor with regard to public information.

Does the time it takes to fulfill the request play into how the request is treated? (a five minute request vs. a more complicated request)

It would depend on the request. Public information is available under the Freedom of Information. FOIA laws says those requests should be handled promptly.

However, analysis or the creation of data that does not already exist is not covered by FOIA.

It is conceivable that the BOE could  choose to accommodate another public agency in a request after consulting with administration. Time, value and the statutory need to comply could all come into play in making a decision.

The  priority goal for district staff, including how their time is allocated during the work day, is the education of our children and sound  management of the school system.

Do you view or treat intra-board requests as similar to FOI requests from the public or is there a difference?

There is by definition a difference. 

Requests from a public agency occur when that agency has  taken action. Public agencies can, in almost all cases, only take action in public.  The Board of Education will consider such requests as they are made, and we would not simply treat such a request as an FOIA request for information.

Individual requests for public information are the right of every citizen, including individual members of public bodies.

We respect  and enjoy when we can have strong, collaborative relationships with the community and local boards.

Finally, was there a conclusion between the Board of Ed and school attorneys as to how these requests will be handled in the future?

Still outstanding for the Board is whether and how they would like to provide accommodations for information above and beyond that of public citizens when the individual is also an elected official.

Our members have asked for that to be on an upcoming agenda and discussion which will take place a meeting held in public.

Planning & Zoning Commission


Chairman John Sini




If a member of another board were to ask for information from you/the town department that reports to you, how would you handle?As the primary land use Commission for the town, we often receive requests for information, insight, and applications from other boards in town.  As P&Z Chair, it has been my policy to expedite any town/public project related requests ahead of other business before the Commission.

Does your board vote on informational requests or do you have informal discussion?

The P&Z Commission does not vote on any informational requests.  The P&Z Department and the town's land-use records represent a valuable resource for our community.

For incoming requests, P&Z Department staff will typically respond to them in a timely manner and often publishes the information which may be of broader public interest on its website for public viewing.  The P&Z Commission sometimes discusses the general nature of request during a general meeting so that its members remain informed on the issues the commission may face in future meetings.

For outgoing requests, any member is free to request information.  We often facilitate those requests to other town boards via the P&Z Department staff.

If a member of your board were to ask another board for information, would you want your board to vote on it first?

As long as the information request is for public information, I wouldn't see the need for a Commission vote on the matter since the information is retrievable by any member of the public.  I would hope the town leaders would work collaboratively to facilitate any of their elected peers' requests for information.  

Do you consider or ask what the purpose of the request is or what the person requesting intends to use the information for before responding or fulfilling? (assuming this is public information?)

In order to ensure the most comprehensive response, I may request what the information query is related to. However, by no means would it represent a gating factor to the final delivered product.  

Does the time it takes to fulfill the request play into how the request is treated? (a five minute request vs. a more complicated request)

Absolutely not.  Needless to say, some requests would be much easier to compile the data than others that may take more time, but staff will communicate that to the requester.  

Do you view or treat intra-board requests as similar to FOI requests from the public or is there a difference?

The Planning and Zoning Department receives thousands of public data requests each year.  A very large proportion of them, including those from other elected officials and various town employees, are handled informally and without delay.

From time to time the Commission and/or Zoning Department will receive a formal information requests which are handled within legal guidelines and logged. 

Finally, was there a conclusion between the Board of Ed and school attorneys as to how these requests will be handled in the future?

To my knowledge their has not been a clear resolution how the Board of Education will handle future information requests from other local elected officials.  

I am hopeful that this recent incident does not represent deviation from the long history of collaboration and transparency among all the major elected town officials and they continue to act in the best interests of our community. 

The Board of Education's recent actions will not impact how the Planning and Zoning Commission will handle future information requests from its elected peers.  


Board of Selectmen


First Selectman Jayme Stevenson




If a member of another board were to ask for information from you/the town department that reports to you, how would you handle?

If an information request comes to me in my capacity as First Selectman, if it’s public (not legally protected) information, I provide it and if needed, ask my staff to provide it.  If the request comes in the form of an FOIA request, we follow the standard legal process for complying with an FOIA request.  I would add that this situation occurs regularly in the ongoing business of town government. Members of other boards, commissions and RTM members have open access to town staff and the First Selectman.

Does your board vote on informational requests or do you have informal discussion?

The Board of Selectmen does not vote on informational requests and do not have informal discussions on informational requests.  Release of public information is processed by town staff and the First Selectman in accordance with the laws that exist for disclosure of public information. 

If a member of your board were to ask another board for information, would you want your board to vote on it first?

If a member of the Board of Selectmen has an information request of another board, they are free to make that request without BOS discussion or approval.  Depending on the particular information request, the First Selectman and/or Town Administrator should be copied but we have no formal policy (yet) on this.  Staff are good  in acknowledging information requests that come to them from individuals and outside entities if the information request raises concern or requires substantial time and effort to fulfill.

Do you consider or ask what the purpose of the request is or what the person requesting intends to use the information for before responding or fulfilling? (assuming this is public information?)

It depends on the nature of the request but typically, no.  More often than not, the requestor discloses the purpose when making the request.  The purpose of an information request for public information (not legally protected) is of no relevance to the requirement to disclose. 

Does the time it takes to fulfill the request play into how the request is treated? (a five minute request vs. a more complicated request)

Not typically.  Sometimes a more complicated information request may take more time to fulfill.  We acknowledge this to the requestor to help manage expectations.

Do you view or treat intra-board requests as similar to FOI requests from the public or is there a difference?

We do not currently treat intra-board requests as FOIA requests unless the request is for legally protected information.

Finally, was there a conclusion between the Board of Ed and school attorneys as to how these requests will be handled in the future?

If there has been a resolution on this issue, I have not been made aware.

 Board of Finance


Chairman Jon Zagrodzky




If a member of another board were to ask for information from you/the town department that reports to you, how would you handle?






Our view is that the BOF should be as transparent as humanly possible.  We are happy to provide any requested information as long as doing so is not restricted or prohibited.  However, it is rare that we get information requests that the BOF fulfills directly.  Most of the time, such requests are best fulfilled by town staff members, which do not report to the BOF.  Like the Board of Selectmen, we also follow a standard process for complying with FOIA requests, though it is rare that we get such requests. 






Does your board vote on informational requests or do you have informal discussion?

We have not had votes of this nature in the time that I have been on the BOF. 

If a member of your board were to ask another board for information, would you want your board to vote on it first?

No, but as Board chairman, I would like to know when other members of the BOF submit such requests. 

Do you consider or ask what the purpose of the request is or what the person requesting intends to use the information for before responding or fulfilling? (assuming this is public information?)

No, but again, we do not get many requests like this.    

Does the time it takes to fulfill the request play into how the request is treated? (a five minute request vs. a more complicated request)

No, but a more complicated request may simply take longer.   

Do you view or treat intra-board requests as similar to FOI requests from the public or is there a difference?

No, but we take all such requests seriously and will answer them promptly, whether there are FOIA requests or not.   

Finally, was there a conclusion between the Board of Ed and school attorneys as to how these requests will be handled in the future?





I do not know.

Representative Town Meeting


Moderator Seth Morton


There is continuing dialogue between RTM committees and Boards and Commissions of the Town, regarding the Town Budget and items on the RTM agenda. Over the years there has been cooperation with the RTM to make pertinent information available so that the RTM can make informed decisions. The process has worked well.

The Darien Times reached out to Board of Finance member Jim Palen to respond to the same inquiries as it was his question that began the process.


Board of Finance


Member Jim Palen


As a member of the BOF, I made a basic request for both BOS and BOE historic financial data. Town Finance staff responded promptly and provided the information.

Surprisingly, there was immediate push back on my request from the BOE Chair, who ultimately made the request the subject of a BOE legal retreat. 

Rather than focus on the misinformation that has been perpetuated over the past six weeks since the request was made, I would rather focus on the need for greater transparency, better cooperation and civility among our town’s boards and elected officials.

We serve our town and taxpayers best by working collaboratively with our fellow board members for the benefit of our community and schools.  The BOE Chair has now provided the data so let’s move on.