DOVER, Delaware (AP) – The Delaware State Auditor’s Office violated the state’s freedom of information law over a period of several years by not properly keeping logs of public records requests , determined the attorney general’s office.
In a notice issued Monday in response to a petition from the Associated Press, the Justice Department found that the Office of the Auditor, or OAOA, had failed to keep its FOIA logs as required by law on an period of more than three years. .
State Auditor Kathleen McGuiness, who was indicted two weeks ago on public bribery, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
McGuiness, 58, is charged with theft and intimidation of witnesses, and charges of official misconduct, conflict of interest and disobeying state procurement laws . McGuiness, through her attorney, denied the allegations and maintained that she had done nothing wrong.
The FOIA violation stems from a request submitted by the PA in early September for Auditor’s FOIA logs from 2018 to present.
Under Delaware law, public bodies are required to keep records documenting the requests for public records they receive. The information that should be tracked includes, as a minimum, the dates for submission, review, response and final disposition, the deadline for response and the contact details of the requesting party.
Public bodies should also document the names of all persons who reviewed the FOIA request, as well as the names, contact details and dates of correspondence with those contacted in connection with the request. They should also note whether records have been made available and the amount of fees that have been assessed.
On September 17, not having received a response to its FOIA request, the AP sent an email requesting an update.
In response, Amy Gulli, FOIA coordinator for the auditor’s office, said she found no FOIA requests. The AP subsequently determined that the FOIA online portal was sending registration requests to an old email account for a former employee of the auditor’s office.
On September 22, Gulli provided FOIA logs from January 2019 to present that only contained the names of applicants for registrations and dates for submission, response deadline, response, and final disposition.
âThis is the news we track and the format in which we track it,â wrote Gulli, who also said the FOIA Journal for 2018, the year before McGuiness took office, was nowhere to be found.
The AP informed Gulli that the newspapers did not comply with the law and that he would give the office five working days to provide the required documents before seeking the opinion of the attorney general’s office. Gulli acknowledged receiving the follow-up email, but no additional records were provided.
The PA submitted its petition to the attorney general’s office on October 4.
Instead of submitting a response to the DOJ, Gulli on October 13 provided the AP with new versions of the FOIA logs with information that had previously been omitted, including contact details of applicants for registrations and details of which registrations were made. ‘they were looking for. She also provided a copy of the FOIA 2018 log.
âAfter an exhaustive search of OAOA files and records, I am delighted to attach the FOIA Office Logs from 2018 to 2021 to date as you requested,â Gulli wrote, adding that she believed that the logs from 2019 to 2021, “all contain information that the OAOA is legally required to follow for every request.”
The one record request for 2020 included, among other things, all contracts awarded by the McGuiness office since the start of the fiscal year, and all emails between McGuiness and Christie Gross during that period. Gross is the founder and chairman of My Campaign Group, which was awarded a non-competitive contract as part of the criminal investigation that led to McGuiness’s indictment.
On October 15, Patricia Davis, deputy state attorney in Kent County, told the Justice Department that the FOIA issue was moot because the auditor’s office “was able to go through old files and recreate the FOIA log to comply with legal requirements. “
But the DOJ agreed with the AP that providing the missing information did not make the issue of the FOIA violation moot.
âThe issue is with historic conduct spanning more than three years and two administrations and may not escape scrutiny simply because AOA has been able to produce responsive documents,â the deputy wrote. Chief Attorney General Alexander Mackler.
“In the absence of complete and accurate records, the FOIA’s open records provisions would be of little practical use in strengthening government accountability to the citizens of this state,” he added.