Attorney General’s Office acts to gain access to public information
DOVER – Attorney General Beau Biden announced that his office filed a lawsuit today demanding that the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority release records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The suit was filed in Kent County Superior Court on behalf of local resident Georgette Williams, whose request for public records was denied by the authority. Biden is seeking a court order compelling the authority to turn over its employee salary, overtime and benefits information.
“Delawareans must have access to public information about their government,” Biden said. “The law is clear: the authority is a public body and the information sought by this citizen must be released. My office is taking this action to ensure that the law is followed and the records are provided.”
Under Delaware’s open records law, the Attorney General can file suit on a citizen’s behalf in his/her FOIA dispute with a public body if it ignores a determination by the Attorney General’s office that information a citizen requests is public and should be released, which is what the authority is doing.
This spring, after the authority denied Mrs. Williams’ initial FOIA request, the General Assembly passed legislation (Senate Bill 36), sponsored by Sen. Brian Bushweller and Rep. Donald Blakey, which clarified that the authority is a public body and is subject to Delaware’s FOIA law. The bill was signed into law April 19. The legislation was necessary because the Attorney General’s Office had previously ruled the FOIA statute did not extend to the authority, which is a one-of-a-kind entity in Delaware.
After SB36 was enacted, Mrs. Williams filed a new FOIA request with the authority for various records, including salary and benefit information of authority employees. The authority again denied the request, disputing its status as a public body under the law. Mrs. Williams then appealed the authority’s ruling to Biden’s office, which ruled last month that Delaware’s FOIA statute applies to the authority and that it must release all of the requested information.
Despite this spring’s legislative action and the July ruling from Biden’s office the authority continues to refuse to produce the requested records without a court order, which is why Mrs. Williams asked Biden to file today’s suit on her behalf.
The Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority is the only water-and-sewer authority in Delaware. It was created in 1962 by acts of the respective Camden and Wyoming town councils. Last month both governing bodies sent letters to the authority asking its leadership to comply with the Attorney General’s ruling and release the payroll information.