October 30, 2003
Kent County Office - Civil Division (739-7641)
Ms. Cecile Tiemeyer
80 Church Street
Bowers Beach, DE 19946
Re: Freedom of Information Act Complaint Against Town of Frederica
Dear Ms. Tiemeyer:
We received your complaint on September 11, 2003 alleging that the Town of Frederica ("the Town") violated the Freedom of Information Act, 29 Delaware Code Chapter 100 ("FOIA"), by not allowing you to inspect and copy the following records: (1) "all water and trash bills"; (2) "all books, checking accounts and papers that the Town maintains since 1994"; (3) "an accounting of the $20,000.00 and $10,000.00 in bonds left in the Town's name by a former mayor and council"; and (4) a list of the names of persons who are bonded and the name and address of the bonding company.
By letter dated September 22, 2003, we asked the Town to respond to your complaint in writing. We received the Town's response on October 14, 2003. The Town has offered to make available to you for inspection and copying the water and trash bills, and documentation relating to the bonding of Town employees and/or Council members. The Town objects to your second request as "exceptionally broad and vague," but has offered you access to any account statements. The Town also objects to your third request because "no specific 'accounting' of these funds has been authorized or prepared" and FOIA does not require a public body "to prepare a document where no such document exists to comply with a FOIA request."
The Town has offered to provide you with access to the water and trash bills and bonding information, so those issues have been resolved. Your second request is overly broad. In previous opinions, we have pointed out that "[i]t is the duty of the requestor to frame the request with sufficient specificity so that it is not unnecessarily broad." Att'y Gen. Op. 95-IB24 (Aug. 7, 1995). FOIA does not require a public body to honor "[b]road, sweeping requests lacking specificity." Att'y Gen. Op. 94-IO30 (Oct. 19, 1994).
FOIA also does not require a public body to prepare an accounting "pulling together information from various sources and arranging it in a format you requested to create a new public record that did not already exist." Att'y Gen. Op. 03-IB13 (June 2, 2003). The underlying documents on which an accounting might be prepared, however, are subject to FOIA, and we believe that you have identified those records with reasonable specificity. Accordingly, the Town should make those records available to you for inspection and copying within ten days of the date of this letter.
We sense in your complaint a note of frustration that you may have been overcharged for Town services, and trust that Town officials will take the time to work with you to resolve any problems to the extent they have not already done so.
Very truly yours,
W. Michael Tupman
Deputy Attorney General
Malcolm S. Cobin
cc: The Honorable M. Jane Brady
Lawrence W. Lewis, Esquire
Deputy Attorney General
Fred A. Townsend, III, Esquire
Phillip G. Johnson