Written on: September 21st, 1999 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Brandywine School District had violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by failing to provide him with the names of the District Advisory Committee and such committee’s report and recommendations. The district responded that no such committee had been created, and it could not provide documents that did not exist. Held: Neither federal nor Delaware law requires a state agency to create a document that does not exist in order to satisfy a FOIA request. There was therefore no FOIA violation.
Written on: June 25th, 1999 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the City of Newark had violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) at its March 22, 1999 City Council meeting by changing its agenda at the start of that meeting to include a $675,000 increase to the 1999 city budget so that the city could consummate a purchase of real property it had contracted to buy in a March 10, 1999 agreement. Held: Because the agreement had been entered into 12 days before the meeting in question, the City’s defense that it could amend its agenda to reflect issues that “arise at the time of the public body’s meeting” under FOIA was insufficient. The City was directed to place the budget amendment on the agenda of the next regularly scheduled meeting or at a special meeting held with adequate notice and opportunity for the public to be heard.
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 28th, 1999 in 10002(a) Agenda
The Complainant alleged that the Town of Bethany Beach had violated the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by (i) meeting in executive sessions on three occasions for purposes not authorized by law; and (ii) not giving the required notice of a special meeting held on February 19, 1999. The Town admitted that its Council had gone into executive session on the three days indicated and that it had not given the seven days notice of the special meeting typically required by FOIA, but argued that it had appropriate reasons for doing so. Held: With respect to the executive sessions, the Attorney General’s office reviewed the confidential minutes of the executive sessions and determined that they were held for appropriate purposes – to discuss personnel matters as they relate to specific employees. As for the notice of the Special Meeting, the notice itself was timely – because it was posted more than 24 hours before the meeting – but it was otherwise deficient because it did not explain the reasons why the Town was unable to meet the typical 7-day advance notice requirement. The Town was not required to recall the meeting.
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: December 8th, 1998 in 10002(l) (3) Exemptions - Investigatory Files
Complainant alleged that the Town of Laurel violated FOIA by denying him access to copies of notices set out by the Code Enforcement Officer from April 1, 1997 to March 31, 1998 regarding violations of the Housing Code. Town responded that these were exempted from disclosure under the investigative file exemption and the common law right of privacy. HELD: Investigative file exemption applies even after the file has been closed, and the exemption applies to administrative agencies, not just criminal law enforcement agencies. The notices requested were not public records for purposes of FOIA.
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.