Open government becoming more realistic

For those of you who desire more transparency in government, particularly locally, two seperate decisions in the past week are making that much more possible.

On Friday, July 13, the Delaware Attorney General’s Office released an opinion regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and how it relates to public bodies conducting executive sessions. This came in response to a complaint filed by a Dewey Beach resident who believed the town council was in violation of FOIA, in regards to properly giving notice of the executive sessions or listing them on the meetings’ agendas.

“On the agendas published from this date forward there will be more disclosure as to what the subject matter of the executive session is,” said Dennis Schrader, who acts as counsel for several governing bodies, including Ocean View. “I think what it means is that in the future that all the towns and the town attorneys and the town clerks are going to make sure that they carefully abide by the Attorney Genral’s opinion, and will be more careful in providing the public information about executive sessions.”

That will mean no more closed-door sessions in the middle of a town council meeting that leave the general public baffled over the subject matter. Don’t get us wrong. There are plenty of things that public bodies — such as a town or county council — must talk about behind closed doors that do not fall under the auspices of “public record.” For instance, they often talk about legal strategy, employee disclipline matters or competency discussions. We elect officials to make hard decisions for us, and sometimes they need to be handled in a private atmosphere.

But this decision will clarify that public bodies now have to properly inform people that they will be holding an executive session, and to let people have a general idea what it is they are discussing in that session. Our nation is built under the idea that we are led by a government by the people, for the people. This decision will allow the public to be a little more informed along the way.

The second decision was announced at this week’s Sussex County Council meeting by Administrator Todd Lawson. The County will now post council meeting packets for the public online. These packets contain minutes from the previous meeting and how each council member voted on each particular issue.

Previously, these packets were printed out and made available to the media at County offices in Georgetown. This will allow both the general public and members of the media more access to these records, and in a timelier manner for those who can’t always get all the way to Georgetown from wherever they are.

We applaud Sussex County government and the state’s Attorney General’s Office for taking steps to keep the general public as informed as possible.