South Bethany Town Council delves into FOIA

Date Published: 
August 1, 2014

The South Bethany Town Council met with Deputy Attorney General Edward K. Black of the Delaware Department of Justice last Friday, for a question-and-answer session about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The meeting covered a variety of topics regarding FOIA and was meant to clear up questions including what FOIA is, why it is needed, who it applies to, how it’s enforced and consequences of non-compliance, as well as what the council does and does not have to disclose to the general public and why.

“‘Observe’ doesn’t mean ‘participate’ — that’s a key concept,” Black explained of the citizen’s privilege afforded at council meetings. “You have the power to remove someone who is disruptive.”

Black went on to state that he wasn’t there to tell the council how to do their jobs, but he recommended that the council limit public comments to the allotted public comment period, with the exception of allowing a resident to speak that has specific knowledge of relevant subject matter.

“It’s a balancing act,” he went on. “You have a public comment period, but the purpose of FOIA is not to allow people to disrupt your meetings.”

Discussions continued regarding what was considered public record and what was not, what constituted a public meeting quorum, and what can get in the way of public business, rather than allowing for observation of public business being conducted.

“We need FOIA because the citizens should have the ability and the right to know what we’re up to,” said Black after explaining that there are 18 exceptions to that notion, including plans for public buildings because of security issues.

For more information about the Freedom of Information Act, visit the FOIA website, at www.foia.gov.