Attorney General: Seaford meeting violated FOIA rules

 

SEAFORD — A Seaford resident correctly asserted that a meeting to discuss insurance renewals for city police violated state open meetings guidelines, the Delaware Office of the Attorney General ruled last week.

Frank “Dan” Cannon made his claim after unsuccessfully requesting minutes from a March 13 Employee Benefits Committee meeting that covered health and life insurance renewals involving Seaford Fraternal Order of Police members. The City of Seaford’s FOIA coordinator responded on April 6 that “no records responsive to your request ha[d] been located.”

The request came on March 27, the day city council unanimously approved a recommendation from the Benefits Committee that was presented by Integra President Kris Smith.

Mr. Cannon challenged the lack of public notice and an agenda for the Benefits Committee meeting and argued that it was a public body.

On April 12, the city responded that the committee consisting of the city manager, city finance director, and staff was not a public body and described it as “essentially a staff working group designed to assist in implementing a pre-negotiated term in the FOP Agreement. The Committee does not include the Mayor, the Vice Mayor or any member of the City Council. …”

Also, the city maintained no “decision maker” was present at any Benefits Committee meeting and “There are no policy decisions made or recommended.”

Challenging that interpretation, Mr. Cannon noted that Seaford’s Planning and Zoning Commission is considered a public body yet does not included any Council members.

“You also note that the Committee makes specific recommendations to the Council for health insurance benefits for all City employees,” according to the opinion. “Finally, you argue that the proper mechanism for the discussion of information exempted from the definition of ‘public record’ is an executive session.”

In a five-page opinion, Deputy Attorney General Michelle E. Whalen pointed to the City Manager’s role in appointing the Committee and the Committee’s task to make recommendations to the Mayor and Council.

“As such, we are not persuaded that the meetings in question were mere ‘ministerial’ meetings between a single decision maker and his or her staff,” DAG Whalen reasoned, among other findings.

The AG’s office concluded that “We therefore recommend that the Committee comply with FOIA’s open meetings provisions in the future.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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