Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Proposed Delaware FOIA reform does not go far enough with higher education

Thanks to Redwaterlilly there is an easy reference to the proposed FOIA changes.

Here's one section that is NOT marked up for change:

(d) “Public body,” “public record” and “meeting” shall not include activities of the University of Delaware and Delaware State University, except that the Board of Trustees of the University and the Board of Trustees of the University shall be “public bodies,” and University and University documents relating to the expenditure of public funds shall be “public records,” and each meeting of the full Board of Trustees of either institution shall be a “meeting.”

Read that closely.

At UD and DSU--which between them spend tens of millions of State and Federal funds each year--only the Boards of Trustees are considered public bodies and therefore subject to FOIA inquiries.

Here's the accountability problem with that:

Both the Board at UD and the Board at DSU have adopted a specific strategy for avoiding FOIA and operational transparency. They operate through sub-committees. All the serious work and all the documents only go through sub-committees. The sub-committees then interact with the Executive Committee, which approves their decisions for a formal report to the board that is oral and not detailed. Then the Board at a public meeting approves the work of the sub-committee without any written reference to exactly what the sub-committee did.

Therefore the operations of the sub-committee--which are the actual decisions taken by the Board of Trustees--are sheltered from the Freedom of Information Act.

Delaware is only one of two States in the country (I think PA is the other one) that allows this travesty.

It needs to change.

But it probably won't, because the legislature (not the mention the Governor's mansion) is inhabited by alumni who simply will not allow it to happen.

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