Written on: May 30th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Millsboro Town Council improperly conducted a public business following a public meeting without notice. The Town Council held a regularly scheduled meeting, properly noticed, during which they discussed purchasing a piece of property. The decision was put off but an hour after the meeting was adjourned, the Council reconvened and voted on an amount to offer on the property. The public was polled over the phone on whether they would support such an offer. Another meeting was held the next month during which the purchase was publicly discussed and voted on. Held: the reconvening and vote following the adjournment of the public meeting was in violation of the Freedom of Information Act, this violation was cured with the public vote during the next meeting. The telephone poll of residents was not in violation of FOIA as there was no gathering and no action was taken.
Written on: May 29th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Board misled the public by indicating that a decision on a matter could take weeks and would be decided at another meeting, and then voting on that matter later in the evening after the majority of the audience had left. The question is whether the audience at the public hearing of the Board had reasonable cause to believe that this Board would hold another public hearing at some later time before deciding the application for the Project. Held: the audience did have reasonable cause to believe the record would be open for further proceedings other than a vote. Even though the audience members were advised that they were welcome to remain based upon the Chairman’s comment and ambiguity in the conflicting statements, they could reasonably have believed that the application on the Project would not be decided that night. The failure to advise the public when a matter is to be discussed and decided is a violation of the Act. However, this is a violation of the spirit of the Act, not a specific component of the act, and no remedy is warranted.
Written on: May 20th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Georgetown Town Council appointed individuals to positions without holding a public meeting. Held: No such appointments were made. Second, the Complainant alleged that meeting minutes were in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Held: the minutes comply with the statutory requirements of the Act. Third, the Complainant alleged that the Town Council has improperly denied the public the right to comment on matters. Held: this is a legitimate exercise of a public body’s authority to determine the agenda but if the public does bring up a matter of concern, the Council should honor a request to add it to the agenda. Fourth, the Complainant alleged that the Council fails to tape meetings, in violation of the Act. Held: there is no requirement that public meetings must be recorded. Finally, the Complainant expressed concern in regards to the public record keeping of the Council. Held: this complaint lacks specificity and is not addressed.
Written on: May 15th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant sought a decision on the same allegations discussed in A.G. Opinion 96-IB15. Held: such opinion has already been rendered. The Office of the Attorney General will not issue an opinion as to whether the Georgetown Town Charter has been violated as that is not within the Office’s jurisdiction.
Written on: May 10th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Complainants alleged twenty-one violations of the Freedom of Information Act by the Georgetown Town Council. Held: the Council violated the Act multiple times by failing to provide reasons why agendas were not posted in the required timeframe. The Council violated the Act by failing to timely post notices of meetings, failing to keep proper minutes and failing to post agendas. The Council violated the Act by failing to include reasons why certain agendas were not posted on time. However, when reasons were given, there are no requirements governing how specific the reasons must be. The Council also violated the Act by not listing certain items on the agenda which were put up for a vote during the meeting, including the hiring by “resolution” of special counsel to the Council. This office specifically finds that in order for a public body to ratify illegal acts, that the former illegal acts and/or action taken by the Town Council in previous public meetings and hearings, must be listed on the agenda and public notice for the meeting in order to provide notice to the public as to what items are being ratified in open session.
Written on: May 6th, 1996 in 10002(l) (1) Exemptions - Personnel
The Complainant alleged that multiple municipalities improperly withheld the names and salaries of municipality employees. The municipalities argued that releasing such information would be a violation of personal privacy, and that to release the information would require retrieving the information from tax forms which are exempt from disclosure. Held: salaries and names must be disclosed. If they are contained in documents which are exempted from disclosure, the information should be taken from those documents and provided in a releasable format. How the municipalities would like to release the information to the Complainant is up to the municipalities.
Written on: April 15th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Woodbridge school board held closed meetings in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Complainant alleged that a quorum of school board members met before and after school board meetings and discussed public business. The school board argued that on two of the three alleged occasions, the school board members were simply talking, not about public business. Held: the board violated FOIA when a quorum discussed public business in the form of discussing the possibility of a Little League team renting out the gym. However, this violation was later cured when the full board met in public meeting, discussed the issue and voted. There was no evidence that public business was discussed during the other two instances, but board members should be cognizant of such discussions as they bear the burden of refuting violation claims.
Written on: March 20th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
Georgetown Town Council motioned for reargument on A.G. Opinion 96-IB05 based on the decision of Kansas City Star Company v. Fulson, 859 S.W.2d 934 (1993). Held: motion is denied. Unlike the meetings in Kansas City Star Company, the Georgetown Town Council conducted public business when it held separate meetings to discuss and ratify the November, 1995 memorandum regarding personnel and other issues.
Written on: February 13th, 1996 in 10001 Declaration of Policy
The Complainant alleged that the Georgetown Town Council violated the Freedom of Information Act. Complainant alleged that the Council met daily in violation of FOIA and also submitted a memorandum for which there was no public record. The Council argued that there was no specificity as to their daily meetings and argued that the Memorandum was reviewed with separate council members but at no time was a quorum present warranting a public meeting that complied with the Act. Held: there was no evidence that the Council met daily in violation of the Act. However, the Memorandum was executed in violation of the Act. A public body may be subject to FOIA even if a quorum is not present, as was the case here where small groups met to discuss the memorandum. The fact that Council met in sub-groups to discuss, formulate and execute the November 27, 1995 memorandum suggests that the Council acted deliberately to circumvent the public notice, agenda and record keeping requirements of the Act.
Written on: January 2nd, 1996 in 10002(g) Meeting
The Complainant requested an investigation into three meetings the Newark City Council held with the University of Delaware. These meetings were not open to the public and no record was kept. Newark City Council argued that no quorum was present at any of the meetings and, therefore, the meetings were not those of a public body. Held: ad hoc committees are considered public bodies and the breakdown of council members into three groups is the formation of ad hoc committees. The formation of three ad hoc committees to meet with the same university staff to discuss essentially the same topics was a scheme to avoid compliance with FOIA.