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 28th, 1998 in 10002(l) (1) Exemptions - Personnel
The Secretary of Labor requested an opinion regarding whether FOIA required the disclosure of sworn payroll statements filed by contractors, with the exception of employee social security numbers. The AG previously determined that such documents were public records, relying heavily on I.B.E.W. v. United States Dep’t of Hous. & Urban Dev., 852 F.2d 87 (3d Cir. 1998), which permitted the disclosure of employee names and addresses, but not social security numbers, under FOIA. The Third Circuit later modified its earlier decision, finding that the disclosure of employees’ names and addresses is no longer required as a consequence of heighted personal privacy concerns raised by decisions in other Circuits and the SCOTUS. HELD: Based on recent Third Circuit precedent, the DOL should discontinue the practice of releasing the names and addresses of employees listed in sworn payroll reports, and the DOL is not required to release the names and addresses of apprentices registered in the Department’s Apprenticeship and Training Program in order to protect the personal privacy of those apprentices. Attorney General Opinion No. 95-IB03 (Jan. 25, 1995) rescinded.
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.
Written on: January 30th, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the Town of Middletown violated FOIA by (i) failing to give notice to the public of meetings to discuss the development and eventual adoption of the Town’s Comprehensive Plan, even though those meetings did not involve a quorum of the council and involved the Mayor, members of the Institute staff, and the Town’s Planning Commission, and (ii) did not hold a public meeting to review comments on the Draft Comprehensive Plan from the Cabinet Committee on State Planning Issues. HELD: (i) failure to provide public notice of “workshops” to discuss Comprehensive plan violated FOIA because public business was discussed at those meetings and the groups involved constituted an “ad hoc” committee for purposes of FOIA; (ii) failure to post agendas with other meeting notices violated FOIA because public was not put on notice that their input was being sought regarding the proposed Comprehensive Plan; and (iii) to the extent complaint alleges violation of the Land Use Planning Act, that is outside the jurisdiction of the Office.
Written on: January 21st, 1998 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the City of Newark violated FOIA because it did not provide her with a transcript of an executive session held by the City and did not go into executive session for a purpose authorized by statute. HELD: FOIA does not require a public body to tape record its meetings or executive sessions, or have a stenographer present to transcribe the proceedings. However, the City did discuss items in executive session for reasons not authorized by the statute. Therefore, the City directed to hold a new hearing in order to deliberate in public as required by FOIA.
Written on: December 23rd, 1997 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged the Woodbridge School District violated FOIA by (i) maintaining vague and non-specific meeting minutes and that the meetings should be tape recorded; (ii) the school districted noticed an emergency meeting to discuss the assistant superintendent’s contract but in fact discussed other issues; and (iii) the district improperly met in executive session to discuss personnel matters, but actually discussed matters not authorized for executive session. HELD: (i) Complaints lodged more than six months after the action by the public body that is the subject of the complaint will not be considered; (ii) FOIA does not require a public body to tape record its meetings or executive sessions; and (iii) meeting minutes need only include a record of those members present and a record by individual members of each vote taken an action agreed upon. FOIA does not require a detailed summary of discussions.
Written on: November 24th, 1997 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainant alleged that the City of Wilmington violated FOIA’s open meeting requirements by holding meetings of the Residency Review Board without notice to the public and by failing to maintain minutes of those meetings. The City did not dispute the allegation that it failed to provide notice of the meetings, but did provide copies of the minutes of those meetings. HELD: FOIA’s notice requirements apply to all meetings of public bodies regardless of whether formal action is taken by the body at the meeting. To remedy this violation, the Residency Review Board directed to notice a special meeting within thirty days of the date of the decision in order to discuss the principal matters discussed at its earlier meetings.
Written on: October 20th, 1997 in 10002(a) Agenda
Complainant alleged that the Cape Henlopen School District violated FOIA by holding a meeting without providing proper notice to the public, or disclosing on the agenda that the district might vote to spend public monies for new locally funded teaching positions. The District argued that the issue arose at the meeting, so could not be disclosed in advance. HELD: The District did not violate FOIA’s notice requirements. The meeting was attended by a number of parents and teachers, including the complainant, the public was not misled by the agenda posted, and the conversation evolved into a substantive discussion that arose during the course of the meeting consistent with FOIA.