Judge Holds Hearing in Delaware FOIA Dispute - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Judge Holds Hearing in Delaware FOIA Dispute

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DOVER, Del. (AP)- The state attorney general's office asked a Kent County judge Monday to force a local water and sewer authority to comply with Delaware's Freedom of Information act.
 
The Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority has refused to release financial records, saying it is not a public body under state law. Nonetheless, the General Assembly last year amended Delaware's FOIA last year to specify that the authority was subject to open meetings and open records requirements.
 
Superior Court Judge Robert Young heard arguments Monday on the state's request that he rule in its favor based on written submissions to the court and not allow further litigation because the only issues in question are legal, not factual. Young gave no indication when he would rule.
 
The General Assembly passed the law purportedly subjecting the CWSWA to the FOIA law shortly after the attorney general's office ruled that the authority was not a public body under FOIA because it does not receive or disburse public funds or provide advice or recommendations to other public bodies or public officials.
 
Despite passage of the law, the CWSWA still has declined to release information about its salaries and payroll-related expenses to Georgette Williams, a member of the Wyoming town council who also serves as town treasurer.
 
After Williams was rebuffed a second time in her efforts to obtain the payroll information, the attorney general's office filed the lawsuit on her behalf.
 
The authority argues that it does not receive public funds, only user fees paid by its customers, and that the General Assembly cannot simply decree that an organization or corporation is a public body subject to the FOIA.
 
"The question is, 'Under FOIA, does the sewer and water authority receive public funds?'" said Mary Sherlock, an attorney for the authority. "And the answer is no."
 
Deputy attorney general Ralph Durstein III noted that, in addition to amending the FOIA law to cover the CSWA, lawmakers passed the enabling legislation several years ago that allowed formation of the authority, subject to a referendum by local residents.
 
"This is an entity that exists purely as a creature of government," Durstein argued. He added that laws passed by the General Assembly are entitled to a presumption of constitutionality.
 
Sherlock said the authority is complying with the enabling legislation's requirement that it make detailed audits and financial statements of it accounts available for public inspection. But those statements do not provide details about salaries and benefits of the authority's roughly dozen employees.
 
Sherlock drew a scornful response from local residents who packed the courtroom when she suggested that if the authority is forced to disclose salary information, customers may see their rates increase.
 
CWSWA board chairman Mark Dyer said afterward that disclosure of salary information could cause strife and resentment among authority employees, who might decide to seek better paying jobs elsewhere, forcing the authority to raise its salaries.

 

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