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Commentary: Transparency issues would accompany Wesley-DSU merger

From Delaware State News

By Rep. John Kowalko

The imminent merger/acquisition of Wesley College, a private college, by Delaware State University, a public university, has once again brought into focus the determined effort by our state government to resist the transparency and openness necessary to allow public awareness and accountability. Delaware has historically ranked near the bottom for its lack of transparency and accountability.

Delaware’s shaky financial disclosure and ethics system is one big reason why the state earned a failing grade on the State Integrity Investigation, an assessment of state government accountability and transparency by the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity.

A report released in November 2015 shows that Delaware received a 56, or grade of F, ranking it 48th among all states. See the report here: publicintegrity.org/politics/state-politics/state-integrity-investigation/delaware-gets-f-grade-in-2015-state-integrity-investigation/.

In assessing the systems in place to deter corruption in state government, some of the categories that Delaware failed in were public access to information (grade F, rank 24th), political financing (grade F, rank 27th), executive accountability (grade F, rank 36th), legislative accountability (grade F, rank 48th), state budget process (grade D, rank 42nd) and ethics enforcement agencies (grade F, rank 43rd). These statistics do not present a very flattering picture of the “Delaware Way.”

Recent examples of Delaware’s embracement of government secrecy and lack of public accountability abound.

Gov. John Carney, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Division of Public Health have refused to release or post data as to the specific locations of coronavirus outbreaks, despite repeated requests by myself and other legislators. This information would be invaluable as we reopen child care centers and plan to reopen schools.

Delaware’s State Department has failed to require identification of beneficial ownership as regards nearly 1 million Limited Liability Company licenses issued yearly, and the Legislature has failed to pass legislation to require oversight that would be in the public’s interests.

The recent case involving the closed-door negotiations between the governor and the Wilmington business community that resulted in the dismantling of the Rodney Square bus terminal and the secretive bidding process and awarding of contracts for construction and management of the new Wilmington Bus Hub exemplifies an unwillingness to allow public access or scrutiny to major policy decisions. Repeated Freedom of Information Act requests on the particulars were rejected.

We’ve witnessed the abuse of the “epilogue language” process in the recently passed budget bill that allows select schools to keep money specifically allocated by law for student transportation expenses. Although existing state law requires that the money not used for transportation expenses be returned to the taxpayers, the epilogue language inserted into the budget bill contravenes existing code, and my amendment to remove it failed on the House floor.

Delaware’s Legislature created the Delaware Partnership for Prosperity, a public/private entity that recommends disbursement of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to some of the richest corporations in America. Some recent recipients of note were Amazon Inc. and Barclays banks. Despite written FOIA requests by me for details, the DPP has claimed it is exempt from FOIA rules, even those submitted by a sitting lawmaker on behalf of his constituency.

These continued abuses of the public trust have cemented Delaware’s reputation as a secretive operation that feels it has no responsibility or obligation to the taxpaying public that it is sworn to represent.

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