NAACP seeks access to Dover police labor talk records

DOVER — In a continuing quest to learn more about ongoing labor negotiations between the City of Dover and its police force, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is petitioning the Delaware Department of Justice for answers.

On Thursday, the NAACP Central Delaware Branch filed an appeal for the Attorney General’s office to review a Freedom of Information Act request made in December and denied by the City of Dover.

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La Mar Gun

On Dec. 29, the City of Dover cited Delaware Code and informed NAACP Central Branch President La Mar Gunn that any records involving labor negotiations or collective bargaining shall not be deemed public.

Now, the NAACP is asking that the AG’s office determine whether Dover’s decision not to fulfill the request is a FOIA violation.

In a letter addressed to the chief deputy general tasked with FOIA oversight, the NAACP said it believed that City Council had voted to release the agreement to the public for input from the city.

“Dover’s refusal to disclose the requested items violates [Title 29, Chapter 100 of Delaware Code] and the Federal Freedom of Information Act as amended,” the letter read.

The NAACP cited a Dec. 29 letter from the city and maintained “Dover has willfully violated its duty to transparency by refusing to provide the agreement.

“The people of Dover deserve better than these clandestine meetings that do nothing to build trust. The subject Agreement is in the public interest and your office must use its discretionary release powers to allow for disclosure.”

The City of Dover has maintained that changes to the current agreement proposal were outlined by its labor attorney at a City Council meeting on Dec. 14.

On Jan. 4, Dover City Manager Scott Koenig followed up with Mr. Gunn and noted the city’s earlier response.

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“A majority of this agreement focuses on pay and benefits associated with employment under this agreement,” Mr. Koenig said via e-mail.

“This agreement remains in place until the successor agreement is approved by both the FOP and City Council … City Council members represent concerned members of the community as we are a representative republic not a one to one democracy in this matter.

Mr. Koenig continued with “Input on policies and procedures of the Dover Police Department should be directed to the Chief of Police, Mr. Paul Bernat, or Mayor [Robin] Christiansen. In addition, I believe any changes to the Police Officer Bill of Rights must be addressed by members of the state legislature if your concerns are state level issues.”

Believing that time is of the essence, the NAACP concluded its correspondence with the AG’s office by saying “Further, Dover publishes its existing Agreement online and loses nothing to provide the people of Dover an opportunity to review the proposed agreement.

“There is ‘no’ excessive burden on Dover to produce the requested Agreement. Without going into well-established law on instant appeal, I simply ask that you reverse Dover’s decision with instructions to release the requested proposal Agreement, or if necessary, that you use your discretionary release powers to protect the rights of the people under FOIA. …”

Attempts to reach the AG’s office on Thursday were not immediately successful.

The current Dover Fraternal Order of Police contract agreement covering July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015 is posted on the City of Dover’s website.

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