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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PAC Finds Records of Task Force to be Subject to FOIA

Two PAC opinions in one week? A holiday bonus, no question.

In its 15th opinion of 2015, the PAC...wait for it....found a public body in violation of FOIA.  In this opinion, a requester had filed a request with the City of Danville for various records (minutes, correspondence, notices, etc) relating to the Danville Housing Task Force. The City denied the request, on the basis that the Task Force was not a public body subject to FOIA. The requester then filed an appeal with the PAC.  PAC Op. 15-015.

The City defended its denial in two ways.  First, the City argued that the Task Force was not a public body subject to FOIA.  Second, the City argued that because the Task Force was not a public body, its records were not "public records" under the definition of FOIA, so were not subject to FOIA.

With respect to the City's first argument, the PAC took the position that whether or not the Task Force was a public body was not relevant to the FOIA request. Instead, the PAC stated that since the FOIA was submitted to the City, it was the City that must respond to the FOIA. 

The PAC also rejected the City's second argument. The PAC stated that the Task Force was organized by a City department and used City resources during business hours. Based on these two issues, the PAC held that the records "pertain to the transaction of public business of the City." As a result, they must be released under FOIA.

Based on the PAC's analysis in this case, the records of any private group that has some interaction with a public body could be subject to FOIA. For example, a Chamber of Commerce may meet at City Hall, have City Council or City staff as members, and assist with City economic development and other business development matters. Based on this opinion, the records of the Chamber (which is clearly not a City department or subsidiary body) could be subject to FOIA. That is a very broad reading of FOIA. It will be interesting to see whether the City provides the documents or appeals to the circuit court. Past appeals of similar PAC opinions have been successful, including the recent decision in Board of Education of Springfield Sch. Dist. No. 186 v. Attorney General of Illinois, 2015 IL App (4th) 140941.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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