Gunn accuses Dover Ethics Commission of breaking FOIA rules

DOVER — The Central Delaware NAACP’s president has accused Dover’s Ethics Commission of breaking Freedom of Information Act rules when it conducts its business.

La Mar Gunn spoke in front of city council during the open forum prior to Monday night’s meeting. He said he had requested a decision from the Delaware Attorney General’s Office as to whether the Ethics Commission has been violating FOIA rules.

In Mr. Gunn’s letter to Attorney General Matt Denn, he wrote, “Based on information and belief, the City and its Commission have engaged in repeated practices that constitute an ongoing deprivation of rights of the people of Dover and of the FOIA.

“It is believed that the Commission is a public body and is therefore required to hold meetings in compliance with FOIA. For several years, the Commission has held both private meetings and performed votes in secret sessions only.

La Mar T. Gunn

“Therefore, it is believed that the City and Commission have consciously disregarded FOIA’s open meetings requirement.”

The Delaware Attorney General’s Office acknowledged it had received a letter from Mr. Gunn and William W. Pepper, an attorney from Dover’s Schmittinger and Rodriguez law firm, on Tuesday.

Kim Siegel, FOIA coordinator for the Attorney General’s Office, replied to Mr. Gunn and Mr. Pepper on Tuesday stating that it had requested information from the Ethics Commission regarding the allegations.

“By way of this letter, we request that the Commission provide a response to the allegation(s), including the factual basis and any legal authorities for its position, by December 15, 2017,” Ms. Siegel wrote. “To the extent that there are factual issues that the Commission addresses in its response, the Commission may wish to provide us with an affidavit signed by someone with knowledge of the information alleged.

“Consistent with current procedures with respect to FOIA petitions, Mr. Gunn may submit a reply to the Commission’s response no later than December 20, 2017. Please note that any request for an extension to these deadlines will require a showing of exceptional circumstances. After we receive the parties’ submissions, we will determine whether additional information from either party is required and decide what further action, if any, is appropriate.”

The City of Dover’s Ethics Commission is comprised of chairman Thomas Jackson, Robin Case, Gary Coy, Lisa Enright and Nancy Shevock. They were all appointed by the mayor and confirmed by city council.

Mr. Gunn pointed to an Ethics Commission meeting that took place on Dec. 7 regarding a complaint he filed seeking public reprimand of City Councilman Tanner Polce “for nearly killing two victims in a drunk driving collision.”

During that meeting the Ethics Commission dismissed Mr. Gunn’s complaint about city council’s lack of action on Councilman Polce’s drunken driving arrest.

On May 28, Councilman Polce was charged after an automobile crash in New Castle County that left two men in another vehicle injured. After initially claiming innocence, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DUI charge. A $500 fine and 12 months of suspended probation were ordered.

Councilman Polce issued a statement following the Ethics Commission’s decision.

“I greatly appreciate the Ethics Commission’s due diligence on this matter,” he said.

“I’m glad this issue has been ruled on and we can now focus on the work at hand. We know there are many pressing issues facing the city and we can now turn our full attention to those issues most important to our community.”

Speaking Monday night, Mr. Gunn said he was shocked by what appears to be confusion among members of the Ethics Commission.

“I attended a meeting last month and I was surprised that many of the members of the Ethics Commission were not present, but what shocked me even more than that is that they had no understanding whatsoever as to what their duties and responsibilities were,” he said.

“It posed a question to me, ‘Well, what should we do? What are we supposed to do?’ To me, that shocked my conscious because it’s very clear what the duties and responsibilities are. They’re listed on (the city’s) website and in the (city) code.”

Mr. Gunn said he was also troubled that he received late notice of the Dec. 7 meeting and that two of the five members of the Ethics Commission — Mr. Jackson and Ms. Shevock — did not attend.

“The point that I think the city needs to understand is you don’t need people on your Ethics Commission if they don’t have the time to attend and handle very important public business,” said Mr. Gunn. “Why have them? Replace them…”

Mr. Gunn said he believes that when it comes to things such as ethics, the city should be as transparent as possible. “As a public body doing public business, at the very least, votes by that body should be made public,” he said, regarding the Eth-ics Commission.

“I’ve requested that the Delaware Attorney General issue some sort of decision as to whether or not the city’s Ethics Commission has been through a pattern of practice, holding meetings in violation of the Delaware FOIA, and if so, what are the things or recommendations that we can do to improve or change things that have recently been decided upon?”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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