Letter — Officials: Committee did violate FOIA
“Attorney General’s Office Finds No FOIA Violation” (August 31, 2018 — page 4): Wow! What a misleading headline for the article on Fenwick’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint that was filed by three council members on July 30, 2018!
Just in case the readers (and maybe the reporter) were confused by this incorrectly headlined Attorney General’s Office opinion, here is the verbatim quote from the AG’s final letter to us on Aug. 24.
“You made two allegations: 1) a group of five individuals including the Building Official, Town Solicitor, Mayor, Building Committee Chair, and Town Manager (collectively, “Five Individuals”) violated FOIA by discussing a building permit application without providing an opportunity for the public to observe those conversations; and 2) the Building Committee violated FOIA by approving a building permit without holding a public meeting. Because the Five Individuals are not a public body, we find that they did not violate FOIA as alleged. However, we determine that the Building Committee is a public body and that the Building Committee violated FOIA by its failure to conduct a public meeting to approve the building.”
In summary, the Town of Fenwick Island has committed a FOIA violation by not proceeding with public notice of the Sands’ building plans which place mechanicals on the roof, thus jeopardizing Fenwick Island’s 30/32-foot height regulations.
The responding Town officials tried to dismiss our concerns. However, the sole intent of our FOIA complaint, as well as our request for the Aug. 30 Special Meeting is to focus on a “de facto” building height variance that was rubber-stamped by a small group of town officials without input from the public.
Please note that the three of us side with all those people who are in support of replacing the dated Sands Motel with a new building. However, we also represent those in the town who want to proceed with changes via our existing codes or processes, whether it is a council meeting, a Charter & Ordinance recommendation or a Board of Adjustment hearing. If some regulation needs to be rewritten, then it should be done in a transparent, open forum and not by a group of individuals acting without notice and comment.
Meanwhile, the building height limit in the Town of Fenwick Island has been altered by placing mechanicals on the roof — a change that has not had an opportunity for public comment or input.
While the Sands Motel may limit the impact of this alteration with its neighbors, the next applicant may not do so. Alterations of ordinances are a legal, slippery slope — once officials have agreed to make an alteration for one applicant, the next applicant asks for the same modification or more.
Because of the actions of a few making the decision that mechanicals may go on the roof and exceed the 30/32 height regulation without public notice or comment, our Quiet Resort streets are at risk of evolving into the shaded canyons of Ocean City.
We have been and will continue to be resolute in our commitment to maintain strict height regulations to protect our town from becoming an extension of Ocean City. We will also continue to warn Fenwick residents whenever there are attempts to modify these longstanding height rules. It is for this reason that the FOIA action was filed.
We would appreciate it if you, in turn, could correct your headline and alert readers that the State of Delaware did find a FOIA violation on the method and mannerism of altering building height restrictions for the Sands Motel without public notice and comment.
When we were elected, we promised the voters government transparency, an essential element for public trust and good decisions. We intend to do what we can to fulfill this obligation.
Vicki Carmean, Julie Lee, Roy Williams
Fenwick Island Council Members