Delaware Dept. of Insurance adjusting policy after FOIA violation

DOVER — The Delaware Department of Insurance pledged to increase its attention to public information requests after a violation was determined on July 11 involving a Delmar man.

While Greg Wood received requested Freedom of Information Act material from the DOI, the response missed the within 15 business days requirement that is state law.

Mr. Wood emailed a request for auto insurance information to the DOI on May 5, but was not answered until June 14 — one day after he contacted the DOJ with a complaint.

The DOI contended that it did not receive Mr. Wood’s request through the United States mail, but had received it via e-mail.

The DOJ determined no further action was needed because the DOI has indicated it “will be instituting new internal procedures for handling FOIA requests submitted to the [DOI’s] legal mailbox.”

Any possible further action by Mr. Wood could be filed to the court system, Chief Deputy Attorney LaKresha S. Roberts advised.

• Also on July 11, the DOJ released its finding that the city of Seaford’s council violated FOIA requirements regarding open meeting notices for its 2017 Planning Session agenda.

Frank Cannon filed a complaint on Feb. 24 claiming the agenda “was not provided with the notice for the meeting and, when obtained by you, it omitted major items of public business discussed during the meeting,” according to the DOJ’s ruling. The meeting was held on Feb. 17 and attended by the Seaford mayor and all five council members.

The annual planning session ran from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Seaford District Library. According to the DOJ, Mr. Cannon attended the entire session.

Though the planning session was not listed on the city’s website, it was included on the agenda for the regularly scheduled council public meeting on Feb 14. posted physically and electronically. No planning session agenda was posted in any notices, the DOJ said, but it was separately posted apart of the Feb. 14 agenda.

Mr. Cannon obtained the agenda from City Hall, the DOJ noted. It “very generally listed: opening and closing remarks and breaks but gave no substantive information about the intended topics of discussion.”

According to the opinion, Council had contended that the session was “in the nature of a ‘retreat’ and states that ‘the purpose of the meeting was to review past efforts of the City, enhance team building and training and share information.”

The DOJ said Council explained that “more specificity in the agenda would have defeated the nature of the meeting, but it agrees to provide and post a more detailed agenda in the future.”

The DOJ noted that since Council took no votes or actions at the meeting and planned to meet requirements in 2018, no further action was warranted.

In an April petition, Mr. Cannon alleged that Council ha violated FOIA regulations for the past 10 years of planning sessions. The DOJ said it typically does not review petitions with allegations more than six months prior to the complaint being received.

Deputy Attorney General Carla A.K. Jarosz provided the response.

• On July 7, the DOJ announced that the Milford School District’s Board of Directors and Citizens Budget Oversight Committee violated FOIA during a June 14, 2016 open meeting that no members of the public attended.

District Chief Financial Officer Sara Croce presented a Fiscal Year 2017 tax rate proposal to the CBOC, which was scheduled to presented to the Board at its June 20, 2016 meeting.

“She also stated that the tax proposal documents and county tax warrants would be posted to the District’s website once approved by the Board,” DAG Michelle Whalen wrote in the opinion.

An initial Board meeting agenda did not list the tax proposal, the DOJ noted, and on the day of the meeting “at some point prior to the start of the meeting, the Board posted a full-page addendum to the agenda.

“ … The addendum did not include an explanation as to why prior notice of the items contained therein could not be provided.”

The meeting was attended by at least seven members of the public, according to the opinion.

Gloria Markiewicz filed the complaint, which also alleged that the Board failed “to properly identify the item as a tax rate change on the agenda. … You allege generally that these actions constituted a deliberate attempt to hid the tuition tax increase from the public until after the Board approved it.”

The DOJ said it had no standing to invalidate the Board’s vote on June 20, 2016, but added “we wish to remind you that you retain an absolute right to file suit.”

The opinion urged the CBOC and Board to undergo FOIA training and referred the entities to current AG opinions, updated policy manual for FOIA coordinators, and slides and videos from the recent statewide FOIA coordinator training.

• On July 12, the DOJ found that the Town of South Bethany violated FOIA during a Town Council special meeting posted on on Jan. 6 and held on Jan. 9.

Melvin Cusick filed the complaint that questioned the failure to provide and explain a meeting notice seven days in advance, failing to properly notify him that the meeting regarded his employment as town manager, offering no option for a public setting, and “voting or otherwise deciding to terminate your employment prior to the January 9, 2017 meeting.”

While Council violated the seven day notice and explanation provision, the DOJ said the offenses did not “warrant … remediation.”

The AG said it did not believe Council “voted or otherwise decided to terminate” Mr. Cusick’s employment on Jan. 9. Also, there was no offense to the notification of executive session and job discussion, or open session options.

DAG Ms. Whalen suggested Mr. Cusick consult with an attorney if considering any further actions.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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