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DOJ: Wilmington City Council violated FOIA requirements in barring citizen's comments

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media
City Council President Hanifa Shabazz, pictured here (center) at a City Council meeting this month, barred resident Dion Wilson from speaking during a public comment period in September, citing his use of profanity during a previous meeting.

The state Department of Justice says Wilmington City Council violated the Freedom of Information Act when barring outspoken city resident Dion Wilson from speaking during a public comment period last month. 


City Council President Hanifa Shabazz said Wilson was not allowed to speak because he had used profanity during the previous meeting. Shabazz also had Wilson arrested earlier this month on charges of harassment and disorderly conduct— a move criticizedby some council members and free speech advocates. 

Deputy Attorney General Dorey Cole decidedFOIA’s open meeting requirements apply to the public comment period. She said City Council can remove citizens who are “willfully and seriously disruptive” to a meeting — but that Council’s preemptive decision to bar Wilson from speaking was not justified. 

In a statement, Shabazz said in her 15 years as a member of Council, “it was always implied that public comment was not a part of the City Council meeting agenda.”  But she thanked the Attorney General's office for clarifying the matter quickly, and said she will ensure meetings “comply with all regulations” going forward.


Attorney David Finger of Finger & Slanina, LLC said in a statement Friday that Wilson has filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charges against him "on the ground that the statutes violate the First Amendment."

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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