By John Schwing

WESTPORT — Officials have called off a meeting planned Thursday night by the Long Lots Building Committee, which was publicly announced less than nine hours earlier.

Less than one-half hour after the Westport Journal published an article Thursday morning questioning why the meeting was scheduled with so little advance notice, announcement of its cancellation was circulated at 12:18 p.m. Thursday via the town’s email system.

Notice of the meeting was officially filed with the Town Clerk’s Office at 1:13 p.m. Wednesday, according to Town Clerk Jeffrey Dunkerton, who also provided the document with a time stamp verifying the filing.

The meeting, however, was not publicly announced until 8:52 a.m. Thursday when it was posted on the town website’s calendar and sent through the municipal system.

Although the Wednesday afternoon filing in the clerk’s office could justifiably be called last-minute, Dunkerton said it technically conformed with the advance notice for public meetings required by the state Freedom of Information Act.

The now-cancelled Thursday meeting  was to have begun with a 5:45 p.m. executive session, followed by a 6 o’clock public session at Town Hall.

The Long Lots Building Committee has been in the spotlight over the last several months as it weighs options on whether to rebuild or replace the aging Lot Lots Elementary School — a decision hotly anticipated by the education community, neighbors of the Hyde Lane campus, the town’s fiscal watchdogs and, most particularly, members of the Westport Community Gardens and their allies. Various scenarios under consideration for the project call for claiming all, or part, of the 20-year-old gardens.

The public notification of the planned meeting, just before 9 a.m. Thursday, falls well short of what a typical citizen may understand is the 24-hour advance notice required for town meetings to be legally conducted under FOI regulations.

And, at that point, it may well have escaped the attention of many interested in the Long Lots issues, who might otherwise have planned to attend the meeting.

There was no immediate response as to why, if the notice was filed with the Town Clerk’s Office at 1:13 p.m. Wednesday, it was not posted on the town’s meeting calendar or circulated via email until just before 9 a.m. Thursday — only eight and three-quarter hours before the meeting was scheduled to convene.

While the Wednesday filing may have complied with the letter of the FOI law, does posting general public notice of a meeting with such widespread interest on the morning of the day when it is supposed to take place adhere to the spirit of the law or the issue of government transparency?

Neither Jay Keenan, chairman of the building committee, nor Eileen Flug, the assistant town attorney — both of whom were copied on an email exchange with Dunkerton — had any response to that broader open-government issue or the reason why Thursday’s meeting was subsequently cancelled after the Westport Journal highlighted the questions.

However, Lou Weinberg, chairman of the Westport Community Gardens, contacted by phone early Wenesday afternoon before the meeting was cancelled, said, “It is unfortunate we are getting public notice of the meeting at a very late date,” but added he understands at least one Long Lots neighbor was contacted several days ago about the meeting before it was publicly announced.

This article will be updated with additional comments, if received, after publication.