Dover – Attorney General Beau Biden announced today that a Superior Court judge has granted his office’s demands that the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority release records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The ruling, from Judge Robert Young, compels the authority to turn over its employee salary, overtime and benefits information.
Judge Young ruled that the Superior Court had jurisdiction to hear such a FOIA case; that the General Assembly had the power to declare the Authority to be a “public body” for FOIA purposes; that Delaware law “strongly supports” the disclosure of salary information; that CWSWA had a statutory duty to maintain and disclose financial records; and that Biden had the legal right to bring suit on behalf of a citizen denied access to financial records.
The Court rejected the CWSWA argument that Ms. Williams was barred from seeking the records, due to holding office as Treasurer for the Town of Wyoming: “Ms. Williams does not lose her rights as a citizen by virtue of holding a public office…..” Judge Young emphasized that the motive or purpose of a person in seeking records is irrelevant under FOIA.
Biden’s office filed the suit last year in Kent County Superior Court on behalf of local resident Georgette Williams, whose request for public records was denied by the authority. It is the first time that the Attorney General’s Office has filed suit on a behalf of a citizen in a FOIA dispute.
“The law clearly gives Delawareans access to public information about their government,” Biden said. “The Sewer and Water Authority is a public body and the salary information sought by this citizen must be released. We filed the suit to ensure that the law is followed and the records are provided, and we thank the Court for the ruling.”
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 that body 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 did in the case of Ms. Williams’ request.
In the spring of 2011, 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, 2011. The legislation was necessary because the Attorney General’s Office had previously ruled the FOIA statute did not extend to the Authority, which is the only such entity in Delaware.
After the legislation 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 in July of 2011 that Delaware’s FOIA statute applies to the Authority, and that it must release all of the requested information. Despite the legislative action and the ruling from Biden’s office, the Authority continued to refuse to produce the requested records without a court order, which is why Mrs. Williams asked Biden to file the suit on her behalf. The suit was filed against the Authority in August of 2011.
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.
A copy of the ruling is attached to this email.
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