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Attorney General Matt Denn’s office has ruled the Milford School Board violated the Freedom of Information Act when it failed to include a vote for the 2017 tax rate on its original June 2016 meeting agenda. 

Local resident Gloria Markowitz filed a complaint against the district when her taxes went up $519 instead of the $280 she expected, according to an Attorney General’s Office opinion on the case. 

She found out only after she received her tax bill that the school board had voted to increase taxes on June 20, 2016, even though the tax rate wasn’t included on the board’s original agenda for that night. 

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The tax rate proposal was instead added as an addendum just hours before the school board meeting, which started about 1.5 hours before the public was told it would, according to the opinion. 

Generally, notice and agendas for public meetings are supposed to be published seven days in advance. The agenda should include any and all matters considered of interest to the public. 

“We find it difficult to conceive of a matter of greater interest to a group of citizens, which, if approved, would result in an increased tax burden on those citizens,” the
attorney general’s office wrote in its opinion on the case. 

Agenda items can be added up to six hours in advance of the meeting, but only if they “came up unexpectedly after the initial posting and required immediate attention,” state law says. 

The agenda must also note why new action items were added and why they weren’t on the original agenda. 

The tax rate proposal was added without any explanation, the attorney general’s office found. And in an email to the office, the school district said the tax rate was not included in the original agenda due to an oversight. 

The tax rate and the upcoming vote was also discussed in a committee meeting on June 14, but there was no agenda published for that meeting and it’s unclear if the public was given notice the meeting was taking place, according to the attorney general’s office. 

Though the school district violated FOIA, the attorney general’s office says it has no statutory authority to invalidate the board’s actions or the tax rate. Instead, it has recommended the school board undergo FOIA training to avoid future missteps. 

Markowitz could also file a lawsuit, the attorney general’s office said in its opinion, which could result in more definite action. 

Milford School District Superintendent Kevin Dickerson released the following statement about the FOIA violation: “We acknowledge that we violated FOIA in the posting of our agenda for the (June 20) regular board meeting. Due to an internal mistake, the 2017 tax rate proposal action item was not included on the original agenda. We fixed this by posting an addendum to the agenda but did not include on the addendum a reason why the proposal was not on the original agenda or the time in which the addendum was posted.”

“We take the Attorney General’s opinion very seriously and plan to take appropriate steps, including FOIA training, to ensure transparency for our community.”

Contact Jessica Bies at (302) 324-2881 or jbies@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @jessicajbies.