Delaware Open Meetings Law

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The Delaware Open Meetings Law legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Title 29, Chapter 100, Statutes 10001-10006 of the Delaware Code define the law.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA

Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Delaware. For more information go to the page or go to Delaware sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)

We do not currently have any pages on open meetings litigation in Delaware.

Proposed open meetings legislation

2010

See also Proposed transparency legislation, Open meetings legislation

We do not currently have any legislation for Delaware in 2010.

Statement of purpose

The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states:
"It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that our citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made by such officials in formulating and executing public policy; and further, it is vital that citizens have easy access to public records in order that the society remain free and democratic. Toward these ends, and to further the accountability of government to the citizens of this State, this chapter is adopted, and shall be construed."[1]

Which government meetings are open to the public?

The law states that all gatherings of a quorum of members of a public body, whether formal, informal or through video conferencing, with the intention of discussing public business are considered meetings.

What government bodies are subject to the laws?

The act defines government body as any agency of the state or any subdivision, and any agency or bodied created or empowered by a state agency which receives or disperses public funds or acts in an advisory capacity.

Notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:

  • Grand juries, petit juries and special juries
  • The deliberations of any court;
  • The Board of Pardons and Parole;
  • Public bodies having only 1 member;
  • The Violent Crimes Compensation Board may close any meeting to the public where a sexual offense or a child is being discussed.
  • Deliberations by State Human Relations Commission, Industrial Accident Board and Tax Appeals Board.
  • The University of Delaware, except the Board of Trustees[1]

==== Legislature====

Ambiguous

The Delaware Open Meetings Law is ambiguous as to whether or not the law applies to the legislature. While the broad definition of public body would presumably include state legislators and explicitly includes every "legislative committee," the Delaware General Assembly is explicitly exempt from notice requirements during emergencies and permits them to hold executive session at their discretion. Caucuses are explicitly exempt from the law.[1]

Notice requirements

All public bodies are required to give at least seven days notice for all meetings. The notice must include the intended time and location of the meeting as well as a tentative agenda. The agenda is not binding and may be changed prior to the meeting. Special or rescheduled meetings require a 24 hour notice.[1]

Meeting process

Meetings that are regularly held by a division of the state, i.e. counties, cities or school districts, must be held in a public place within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body.

  • If anyone is "seriously and willfully" disruptive during a meeting, they can be escorted from the meeting.
  • The public must be notified of meetings seven days ahead of time. This notice must include an agenda along with the date, time and place. If sessions are changed they don't have to meet the seven-day requirement but must explain the reason for the reschedule.
  • If the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice, it shall be added to the notice at least six hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.[1]

Meeting minutes

Meeting notices can include posting at the office holding the meeting or the office where the meetings are regularly held.

  • Meeting minutes must be recorded for all government meetings, even closed ones. The minutes must include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members, of each vote taken and action agreed upon.
  • Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer.[1]

Executive sessions

Common executive session exemptions
Personal privacy (including employees)Yes.pngp
Attorney-client privilege/litigationYes.pngp
Security/police informationYes.pngp
Purchase or sale of propertyYes.pngp
Union negotiations
Licensing exams/decisions
Exempt under other lawsYes.pngp

There are exceptions to holding the open meeting law where a government entity may hold a closed session. These closed sessions are referred to as "Executive sessions and may occur for the following reasons:

  • Privacy is granted for meetings when discussing the qualifications for an individual applying for a job.
  • This does not count towards individuals who are applying for a license which must be approved by a public body.
  • First time discussions for buying property for public programs.
  • Information regarding the apprehension of a criminal.
  • Strategy meetings with lawyers.
  • Discussing the identity of lawful charitable contribution.
  • Discussion of documents that have been defined as "not a public record" under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act.
  • Hearing student and employee disciplinary cases.
  • Matters where an individual's competency are discussed.
  • Though those subject to the meeting may request that it be open.[1]

A executive session can be convened by a majority vote of members present at a meeting. This must happen at a public meeting where a closed session is recorded in the minute sessions.The purpose of such executive sessions are limited to public business but cannot be voted on at that time.[1]

If violated

If the Open Meetings Law is violated then a resident may contact the Attorney General. When this is filed the Attorney General has 20 days to respond and decide if a violation has occurred.

If a violation has occurred the citizen may file suit or request that the Attorney General file suit on his or her behalf. The citizen has rights to file the suit regardless of what the Attorney General determines.

Citizens must file suit within 60 days of determining that a violation has occurred. If a violation has occurred, the court can void any decisions made within the meeting in question and award attorney fees to the citizen who filed suit. If no violation occurred and the court feels that the lawsuit was frivolous, they can award attorney fees to the public body.[1]

Major violations

2009

In July of 2009 two county officials for Sussex County, Delaware were charged with violating the Delaware Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release emails proving two of the county members had discussed county business outside of a public meeting. Dan Kramer and Dan Gaffney, hosts of a morning show on WGMD radio, filed requests seeking all email and text messages between former Sussex County Council President Dale Dukes, County Administrator David Baker, Deputy Administrator Hal Godwin and six current or former council members. The Attorney General ruled that charging the amount of $227.12 for the public records was not a violation of the Freedom of Information Act, though could be a violation of the Open Meetings Law.[2]

See also

External links

References