Action Alert: support HB 331to open up the University of Delaware

But first, a couple of updates:

Best entry so far in the “What’s the grossest lie Dave Small ever told?” contest, from Matt Del Pizzo, former president of Delaware Audubon:

“During the fight for scrubbers at the refinery in Delaware city, it was a stunning lie. The Minner administration was going to change the scrubbers from a regenerative type that would capture the caustic [sodium hydroxide, lye] that cleaned the pollution out of the smokestacks. The were going to switch to a cheaper non-regenerative system that would have dumped the air pollutants into the polluters toilet, the Delaware River.  The caustic was going to supplied by Oxychem, and would have contained heavy loads of mercury.  This mercury, along with hundreds of thousands of pounds per day of other pollutants, would have gone straight into the river.  David Small was on a radio talk show blatantly fibbing that there were minuscule amounts of mercury in it.  It turned out one years worth of caustic into the river would have been roughly equivalent to 38,000 thermometers worth of mercury.  Eventually because of the abhorrent nature of what DNREC and the refinery wanted to do, it was stopped by enviros and the community at large. This is a cautionary tale that the DNREC and it’s lying mouthpieces will do anything to get their agenda done. That agenda is always industry first at any cost.  [Note:  a side benefit of the regenerative scrubber victory was that the Oxychem “mercury cell” plant finally closed down, after decades of dumping large amounts of mercury into Delaware’s air, land, and water.  The plant still leaks and dumps mercury into the river, as the site is heavily contaminated, but the discharges are far less than when the plant was running and are gradually decreasing.]

Another corporate lawyer to the Delaware Supreme Court

Within days of Green Delaware’s post on why Leo Strine should not be Delaware’s Chief Justice, Governor Jack Markell nominated yet another corporate lawyer to the Supreme Court: Karen L. Valihura.  Unlike Strine, Valihura, who works in the firm of Skadden, Arps …. does not seem to have public notoriety.

“Karen Valihura’s practice involves a wide range of complex and high-profile litigation involving corporate and commercial issues, including mergers and acquisitions, fiduciary duties of directors, and federal and state securities fraud claims. She represents business entities in federal and state trial and appellate courts throughout the country.”

But, we would argue that she’s not an appropriate choice simply because she IS a corporate lawyer.  The upper reaches of Delaware’s judiciary are already overloaded with these.  Delaware courts need judges with backgrounds representing environmental concerns, civil liberties, organized labor, etc.  Therefore, the Senate should not confirm Valihura.

Valihura’s husband, Bob, is a former state representative who did many bad things.

House Bill 331:  Important Open Government bill hearing Thursday June 12th, 1:00 in Dover

Rep. John Kowalko has introduced HB 331, to make the University of Delaware–and Delaware State University–subject to the Delaware Freedom of Information Act.  The sponsors are Rep. Kowalko & Sen. Sokola, Reps. Jaques, J. Johnson, Q. Johnson, Keeley, Mulrooney, and Potter.  A press release from Rep. Kowalko is at the end of this Alert.

Every member of the legislature should be supporting this important bill.  Why are only 8 out of 62 senators and representatives (13 percent!) “on” this bill?  Probably each and every one of these 62 would agree, in general terms, that they believe in open and transparent government.  Why aren’t they walking the talk?  Why has an amendment to weaken SB 331 been filed?

o       The University of Delaware bribes the General Assembly with free graduate student labor in the form of “legislative fellows.”

o       The General Assembly gives the U of D about $120 million annually.  There is little accountability in the use of these funds, but doubtless a certain amount comes back around to benefit incumbent legislators.

o       The University of Delaware employs a full-time lobbyist, now Derrick Deadwyler, to keep the money and special treatment flowing.  (Deadwyler did not return a call from Green Delaware.)  Deadwyler formerly managed “government affairs” for DuPont, so he knows something about how to get undeserved special treatment.

The U of D has a long and shameful history as a civil liberties offender.  People trying to exercise freedom of speech on its campus are likely to be hassled or arrested by the U’s private police force.

The U of D has its finger in many Delaware policy pies, from the environmental, to the financial, to the social.  All too often, it seems to me, the U of D uses “academic” cover to front for industrial interests.

Example:   In the controversy over the scrubbers described above by Matt Del Pizzo, the refinery was able to roll out statements from College of Marine Studies (name since changed) professor of oceanography Jonathan Sharp in support of the proposed massive river-dumping.  (Sharp, long a servant of industrial interests, or at least an apologist for same, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ever-shameful “Partnership for the Delaware Estuary” in 2011.)  It would have been, and still would be, very helpful to be able to get a handle on payments from the Delaware City Refinery, under various owners, to the University of Delaware.

The U of D is a “Land Grant” university, generously funded by the people of Delaware.

The U of D has long managed, in effect, to claim the rights and privileges of both a public and private institution and the responsibilities of neither.

The exemption of the U of D from the Delaware Freedom of Information Act has long been a sore point and at least three bills have been introduced to change it.  One, apparently, was related to offense taken by some legislators to University plans for a property, the “Judge Morris” property, gifted to it.  Another, apparently, was related to University use of non-union contractors.    HB 331 seems related to University involvement in the “Data Center” power plant scam.  That the “Data Center” is a scam is beyond doubt, and understanding of it would be greatly aided by opening up the University of Delaware.  In each of these cases the pressure of proposed legislation may have influenced the actions of the University in that particular matter.   But the harm done by the U of D’s exemption from Freedom of Information goes much deeper than any particular episode or controversy.

A University is a complex institution.  Doubtless there is much good as well as much bad in the University of Delaware.  My personal experiences with the U of D range from the excellent to the horrible.  There is no reasonable objection to letting some light shine in.

HB has been assigned to the House Administration Committee, whose members are

Valerie Longhurst, Chair, Valerie.Longhurst@state.de.us 562-6640 (home) 577-8476 (office)
Pete Schwartzkopf, Vice-Chair, Peter.Schwartzkopf@state.de.us 227-6252 (home) 744-4351 (office)
Deborah Hudson, Deborah.Hudson@state.de.us , 651-9571 (home) 577-8723 (office)
Daniel B. Short, Daniel.Short@state.de.us 628-5222 (home) 744-4171 (office)
John J. Viola, John.Viola@state.de.us 832-2209 (home) 577-8453 (office)

ACTION:

HB331 will be taken up at 1:00 on Thursday, June 12, in the House Majority Caucus Room.  The natural tendency of the Delaware General Assembly is to kiss the butt of the University of Delaware.  So YOUR VOICE IS NEEDED.  Please contact the members of the Committee, listed above, and YOUR Senator and Representative ( Look them up here if need be).  Tell them you want HB 331 approved without weakening amendments.

Below:   Rep. Kowalko’s press release:

Bill Would Subject UD, DSU to State FOIA Laws

Kowalko: University of Delaware and Delaware State University receive millions

of dollars in state funds annually, should be treated as public bodies

DOVER – Delaware’s two public four-year universities would be treated as public bodies under the state’s open government laws under legislation filed in the House.

House Bill 331, sponsored by Rep. John Kowalko, would remove an exemption in Delaware’s Freedom of Information Act for the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Currently, only the universities’ boards of trustees are subject to FOIA, while the rest of the institutions’ activities, records and meetings are exempt.

State law generally defines public bodies in part as an entity or body established by the General Assembly that “is supported in whole or in part by any public funds.” Since fiscal 2008, the state has allocated more than $1 billion in the budget to the two colleges – more than $830 million for the University of Delaware and more than $245 million to Delaware State University. Delaware Technical & Community College, which also receives state funds, is not exempt from FOIA.

“I want to be clear: the University of Delaware and Delaware State University are excellent institutions of higher learning, and Delaware families are fortunate to have two great in-stat options for their children,” said Rep. Kowalko, D-Newark. “At the same time, we as a state have allocated more than $1 billion the past seven years to these two schools. It is inconsistent to consider yourself a public body when it comes to receiving millions of dollars in public funds each year, but then turn around and say you aren’t a public body under FOIA. It can’t cut both ways.

“What we’re saying with this bill is that if UD and DSU are going to receive public funds, then the public should have a right to examine their records and have access to meetings where policy decisions are made. State-funded schools in most states already are subject to FOIA, so this bill just brings Delaware’s colleges in line with the vast majority of public universities.”

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