Little Creek works to correct FOIA violation

11dsn Little Creek FOIA update1

Currently, Little Creek keeps official documents stored in a secured part of the U.S. Post Office building on Main Street. (Delaware State News file photo)

LITTLE CREEK — Following a Freedom of Information Action violation determination in early May, Little Creek town officials pledged to provide public requests for paperwork within 10 days of receipt.

In a meeting June 6 at the Little Creek Volunteer Fire Company, town leaders also determined that an inactive website icon reading “Past Meetings/Minutes” would be removed, following a recommendation in a Delaware Department of Justice opinion.

“Since the town council has no collective recollection of ever being accused of hindering public access to the affairs of the town and/or minutes of our public monthly town council meetings held at the Little Creek Fire Hall, it was decided not to over-engineer a solution,” Little Creek Mayor Glenn Gauvry said.

“So for now, we will remove from our town’s website the menu option that reads ‘Past Meetings/Minutes.’”

The issue stemmed from a complaint by resident Crystal Smith, who took concerns regarding access to public town information to the Department of Justice on March 10.

The department determined Ms. Smith was not provided reasonable access to meeting minutes when told they were available at the town council secretary’s private residence. Ms. Smith earlier said she was not comfortable going to the home for document review.

Currently, the town keeps official documents stored in a secured part of the U.S. Post Office building on Main Street.

Ms. Smith eventually received the requested information from the town, and the Department of Justice determined no remediation was needed.

The sequence began with Ms. Smith’s FOIA request to the town for information on Oct. 22, 2015, during an issue regarding flood elevation certificates for her property.

As the correspondence with town officials continued to no avail, Ms. Smith eventually emailed state Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, and Rep. Bill Carson, D-Smyrna, expressing concerns regarding the town’s adherence to FOIA regulations.

Plan moving forward

Last week, Little Creek officials resolved to deliver FOIA requests for meeting minutes with copies via certified mail.

“As for current meeting minutes, once they have been approved during the course of business at the following month’s town council meeting, they will also become available in the same manner,” Mr. Gauvry said.

On Wednesday, Ms. Smith said she was comfortable with the town’s response “if they’re correcting the actions.

“I don’t think you should have to wait several months to receive requested documents.”

Ms. Smith said her concern regarding the flood elevation certificates for her property have been resolved “as much as it can be at this point.”

Acknowledging the challenges that an all-volunteer government entity in a small town faces at times when responding to requests, Ms. Smith said, “I do believe bringing up the issue brought up some things that needed to be addressed.”

Last week, Mr. Gauvry said no animosity was held against Ms. Smith for her actions. She confirmed that while mostly she keeps to herself in the town of 224 residents, there’s been no fallout from the ongoing process.

“You keep business and personal matters separate and it never went beyond that,” Ms. Smith said.

Staying in touch

Mr. Gauvry stressed the value of residents attending monthly town council meetings.

“Knowledge of current town business can be acquired by attending the monthly public town council meetings, as well as the following month’s public town council meeting, when the previous month’s minutes are read out loud for approval,” he said.

“And, in a small town of 224 residents, you are only a neighbor or two away from a town council member or someone else who has attended the meetings.

“In addition, the entire town council, all of whom are volunteers and work tirelessly in the service of their community, make themselves freely available as needed.”

If all that doesn’t work, Mr. Gauvry said, and “this arrangement becomes untenable for the residences of the town, we will make the necessary adjustments to remedy the matter.”

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