Written on: June 9th, 1999 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Christina School District had violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by charging her for the costs of retrieving and copying public records that had been requested before the district enacted a set of administrative procedures providing for the charging of costs associated with FOIA responses. Held: Costs could only be assessed for requests that came in after the district implemented its policy for cost recoupment. The district violated FOIA by delaying its response to the Complainant’s request until after it had promulgated regulations requiring a requesting party to pay for the administrative costs associated with a search, and then charging the Complainant for such costs.
Written on: May 12th, 1999 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Town of Bethany Beach had violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by failing to give notice that it would discuss the hiring of a new police officer at its March 19, 1999 meeting. Held: The notice and agenda for the meeting indicated that the Town Council would go into executive session to discuss personnel matters. FOIA does not require an agency to identify the specific personnel it intends to discuss in executive session, including job applicants. There was therefore no FOIA violation.
Written on: April 16th, 1999 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the City of New Castle had denied her request for a copy of a consultant’s report on the management and operational efficiency of the New Castle City Police Department. The City acknowledged that it denied the request for a copy of the full report, but further responded that it had sent the Complainant a copy of the report’s general findings and withheld the rest on the grounds that the police officer interviews contained therein constituted “personnel files” which were not required to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) and were otherwise protected from disclosure by a common law right of privacy. Held: the report did not constitute a “personnel record,” but the contents could be withheld under a common law right of privacy. Because the private information could not be meaningfully redacted from the report, the City did not violate the public records requirements of FOIA in refusing the Complainant’s request.
Written on: December 17th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the City of Newark violated FOIA when it denied her the right to copy the minutes of an executive session meeting, but allowed another citizen to copy the minutes. Held: The City violated FOIA but not providing Complainant with a complete copy of the minutes of the executive session in light of the Council’s decision to make the same minutes available to another citizen.
Written on: November 10th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Woodbridge School District violated FOIA by holding a public meeting at a place which could not accommodate the members of the public who wanted to attend, continuing to meet and discuss public business after some members of the public had been directed elsewhere, and meeting privately with the Band Director after the public meeting. Held: (i) FOIA does not require that the meeting of a public body have a seat for every potential citizen and the selection of the meeting site may violate open meeting laws only if it was unreasonable. It is only when a public body has a reason to believe that a large crowd is to be expected that larger accommodations may be required; (ii) no evidence that people were asked to leave the public meeting; and (iii) no evidence that a private meeting occurred with the intent to discuss public business outside the requirements of the open meeting laws.
Written on: September 25th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Woodbridge School District violated FOIA by discussing matters in executive session for purposes not authorized by FOIA. Held: No FOIA violation because the School District discussed personnel matters in executive session and, having reviewed the minutes, no indication that anything other than discussions authorized by FOIA were discussed. When Board Members did attempt to discuss matters not authorized by FOIA, one member noted that it was not a topic for executive session and the session needed to end. A public body should be encouraged, rather than punished, for attempting to curtail inappropriate discussions in executive session.
Written on: September 25th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Town of Townsend violated FOIA by not publishing adequate notice of its intent to elect a new member for a vacant seat on the Council. HELD: (i) Town violated FOIA when it failed to post a notice at least seven days in advance of the meeting; and (ii) agenda failed to provide adequate notice that the Town would vote on a councilmember, rather than just accept nominations. Because the election of officials is such an important fundamental public right, Town directed to notice a special meeting for the purpose of nominating and/or electing a Councilperson.
Written on: July 6th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Appoquinimink School District violated FOIA by failing to post notice of a meeting at least seven days in advance. School district replied that the meeting was a special meeting requiring only 24 hours advanced notice. The special meeting was necessary because the district needed to take action on a contract settlement between the district and the teacher’s union, and needed to do so prior to a health plan enrollment deadline. HELD: (i) FOIA only requires a public body to provide notice at its principal office or where its meetings are regularly held. A public body is not restricted in other additional locations it chooses to place or post notices of meetings; (ii) School district violated FOIA by not providing a reason in posted notice of why 7 days notice wasn’t possible for “special” meeting; and (iii) School District violated public meeting requirements by conducting its discussion of the new teachers’ contract in executive session because this is not a “personnel” matter within the meaning of FOIA, which only applies to protect the personal privacy of individual employees, and applies only when the discussion reflects on an individual’s competence or ability.
Written on: May 20th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Appoquinimink School District violated FOIA by holding a retreat workshop in executive session where public business was discussed. The District replied that the workshop should have been advertised as a public meeting and the notice was issued in error. HELD: School District violated FOIA by (1) stating in the posted notice that the retreat workshop would be held in executive session, thereby conveying the message to the public that they could not attend; and (ii) meeting in executive session for a purpose not authorized by law. No remediation necessary because the district later reported on the matters discussed at the meeting at the next public meeting, and the School Board took no action based on what happened at the retreat workshop.
Written on: February 20th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The City of Newark requested the DOJ to reconsider its opinion, dated Jan. 21, 1998 (98-IB01) when it found that the Newark Board of Ethics violated FOIA because it discussed public business in executive session for reasons not authorized by FOIA. HELD: Opinion modified; The deliberations and vote taken by the Board of Ethics did violate FOIA. The Board is required to deliberate on the matter in a public session based on the verbatim transcript created at the January meeting, but Board will not be required to engage in a full evidentiary hearing merely to take evidence or introduce documents already of record.