The Board of Education and the Town of Weston have each petitioned the state Freedom of Information Commission to declare residents Gregg and Jennifer Haythorn “vexatious requesters.”
If granted, the designation would give the Town and school district a reprieve — for one year — from the couple’s onslaught of demands for records and complaints to the Commission under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The petitions invoke a law enacted in 2018 establishing conduct that amounts to an abuse of the right to access information under FOIA, a history where the volume, scope, and abuse contained in requests indicates an intent to harass public officials or interfere with their work.
In their petitions, each running 300 pages or above, the Town and Board of Education argue that, over more than three years, the hundreds of FOIA demands sent by Mr. and Ms. Haythorn and their 22 complaints to the Commission represent exactly the conduct the statute describes.
The Freedom of Information Commission itself has faced a similar burden.
We reported in February that the Commission denied two new hearings to Mr. and Ms. Haythorn, ruling that granting the hearings would “perpetrate an injustice” and burden the Commission. One complaint was found to be “not at all clear,” the other was an attempt to recycle one already heard (and denied).
Two weeks later, on the same grounds, the Commission denied two more.
In one, Mr. and Ms. Haythorn had sent the school district a three-page email with their opinions about educational matters and demanded, according to the Commission’s executive director, “voluminous records from multiple individuals.” At the same time, they informed the district that they would immediately file a complaint, even before the district had a chance to respond to the request or acknowledge receiving it.
In the second (the fourth denied), Mr. and Ms. Haythorn had demanded from the Town copies of “all communications and information exchanges” with this reporter and this newspaper regarding certain articles “OR ON ANY OTHER SUBJECT … (emphasis in the original),” including all Town employees, school district staff, and “all Board and Commission and Committee members and their agents and representatives or contractors … including personal accounts and electronic devices, notes and worksheets.”
The Commission denied this hearing because the records had already been provided and that, once again, “it is unclear from the filing exactly what the scope of the complaint entails.”
Petitions for relief
The Town and Board of Education petitions both refer as precedent to the case of East Lyme v. David Godbout. Both argue that the the conduct of Mr. and Ms. Haythorn is similar to that of Mr. Godbout, who the Commission found was a vexatious requester, and granted relief to East Lyme.
In that case, the Commission found that requests were voluminous in number and content, often aimed at disrupting the agency, were disrespectful and abusive, and that the requestor, never satisfied with responses, persisted in making repetitive requests, more to “annoy or hassle” than to obtain information. The ruling noted that the unrelenting requests were detrimental, disruptive, and distressing.
In more than 50 exhibits each, the Town and Board of Education quote from Mr. and Ms. Haythorn’s scores of FOIA requests. Many are tucked within dense, unclear paragraphs with opinions and insults. The school board’s petition notes that many were filed on the same day.
Typically, the requests demand from multiple individuals all documents, communications, emails to and from work and personal accounts, text messages, analyses, handwritten and electronic notes, worksheets, spreadsheets, correspondence, reports, and other data.
A sampling of the scope of information requested over the years includes all documents et cetera regarding school and staff attendance, the tax auction of restaurant equipment, budgets past and present, digital learning, distance learning, educational program requests, election of board officers, enrollment numbers and projections, the ethics complaint against Selectwoman Amy Jenner, facilities optimization, facilities maintenance …
… flooding, FOIA expenses, the Fromson Strassler sale, grade sections, the union grievance against Selectwoman Amy Jenner, home values, janitorial contracts, job descriptions, legal expenses, lockers, meeting guidelines, the mill rate, news articles, office expenses, playgrounds, police body cameras …
… property taxes, PTO contributions, record keeping, salaries, SAT scores, school district performance metrics, schoolbook borrowing, the science curriculum, special education, special education transportation, staff training, the superintendent’s performance review …
… swimming pools, tax appraisals, tax sales, teacher tenure, union agreements, formation of the Village District, the explored and unconsummated acquisition of the Weston Field Club, and everything related to construction of the Weston Intermediate School, going back to 1996.
February 2, 2023: FOI Commission Denies Hearings, Sends Back a Complaint
January 24, 2023: Freedom of Information Director Says “Enough”
January 19, 2022: Election Complaint Dismissed, “No Factual Basis”
June 18, 2021: Costs to Taxpayers of Document Demands and Complaints Rise