Del. Senate votes to close FOIA loophole

For as long as anyone can remember, it seems, the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority has been exempt from Delaware’s open records law.

Now, however, that exemption is in the process of ending.

By a 19-0 vote Thursday, the State Senate said it was time to close the loophole. Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) says citizens and local officials have been frustrated in their efforts to obtain financial information about the authority which was set up back in the 1960s. 

“Transparency and accountability need to be the hallmarks of any organization or entity that seeks to do the public’s business, period,” Bushweller said. “That apparently is not the case with regard to the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority and that needs to change.”

A 2008 University of Delaware survey of water rates of 37 municipal and commercial utilities around the state showed that Camden-Wyoming customers were paying the fourth-highest price for water. Local officials and customers have been trying to find out why, but couldn’t make headway.

Among those frustrated by the authority’s refusal to provide data is Wyoming Town Treasurer Georgette Williams. She filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the authority’s salaries and was turned away.

She appealed the rejection to the Attorney General’s Office, but lawyers there ruled that because of a loophole in the law, the authority was allowed to deny the request.

Williams says she’s pleased the authority may be forced to provide the information residents seek.

“Either they just didn’t answer them or they refused to answer them,” she said. “So, hopefully this legislation will get the answers for the people.”

Bushweller says his research has shown that the Camden-Wyoming authority is the only organization covered by the loophole. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal