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.
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.