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Friday, February 17, 2017

PAC Review 2016 Edition, Part 2

Today, we finish our summary of the Public Access Counselors binding opinions for 2016.

PAC Op. 16-008: (not unduly burdensome)
In PAC Op. 16-008, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for improperly denying a FOIA request as unduly burdensome. The request asked for digital copies of emails between a City official and planning consultants from June 1 through July 1, 2016. The FOIA officer responded that the request would be unduly burdensome as there were more than 50 emails, consisting of over 100 pages, plus attachments, and asked the requester to narrow the request. The requester responded by filing a complaint with the PAC, objecting to the denial. Although the PAC acknowledged that retrieval and review of 174 pages of documents might impose a burden, it concluded that the City failed to show that compliance "would so burden the operations of the City as to outweigh the public interest in the disclosure of the requested records." 

PAC Op. 16-009: (privacy exemption under FOIA) 
PAC Op. 16-009, addressed five FOIA requests from reporters to a public body, which each sought police records and reports related to a former State Representative, who lives and works in the Village, and who had resigned from the Illinois House of Representatives in 2016 after allegations of an extortion scandal and evidence of inappropriate online activities. The opinion contains a variety of rulings regarding specific records, upholding the Village's use of the privacy exemption for certain investigatory records, and rejecting it for others. 

PAC Op. 16-010: (failure to timely respond to FOIA is violation)
In PAC Op. 16-010, the PAC found the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in violation of FOIA for failing to timely respond to a FOIA request. The Sun-Times had filed a FOIA request seeking copies of all invoices submitted to CPS from an auditing company. The newspaper received an “automatic extension” email reply from CPS. A month after submitting the request to CPS, the newspaper filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that it still had not received a response to its FOIA request. The PAC found CPS in violation of FOIA for its complete failure to respond to the FOIA request. The PAC also did not object to CPS use of an "auto-extension" (that the extension was needed due to a high volume of FOIA requests) as a justification for the additional 5 day response time. Of course, the fact that CPS did not respond within the statutory time period, as extended, or properly deny the request, resulting in the PAC's finding that CPS violated FOIA.

PAC Op. 16-011: (failure to timely respond to FOIA is violation)
In PAC Op. 16-011, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for failing to "appropriately respond" to a FOIA request within 5 business days. PAC Op. 16-011. Although the Authority did work out a clarification of the request with the requester, the PAC found the Authority in violation for failing to respond to the clarified request either.

PAC Op. 16-012: (public employee salary information is releasable under FOIA)
In PAC Op. 16-012, the PAC found a public body in violation of FOIA for improperly denying a FOIA request for the names and titles of staff members receiving raises and bonuses. The Authority denied the request, claiming the information was protected as private information, would constitute an invasion of privacy if released, and that the Personnel Records Review Act prohibited disclosure of this information. Not surprisingly, the PAC found the Authority in violation of FOIA. Consistent with past opinions, the PAC noted that records pertaining to a public employee's compensation (i.e., salary and bonuses) is a public record subject to release.

PAC Op. 16-013: (personnel exemption under OMA improperly used)
In PAC Op. 16-013, a reporter filed a request for review with the PAC alleging that a City Council violated the Open Meetings Act when it went into closed session to discuss pay raises for City employees. The City Council argued that it was authorized to go into closed session under section 2(c)(1) of OMA, which allows a public body to go into closed session to discuss the "compensation" of employees. The PAC rejected the City's argument, however, finding that this particular exemption only applies to discussion of compensation of specific employees, and the City Council discussed an "across the board" pay raise rather than raises for named employees.  The City also argued that the closed session was authorized under section 2(c)(2) of OMA, which allows a public body to discuss "deliberations concerning salary schedules for one or more classes of employees" in closed session. The PAC rejected that argument, however, because the City Council did not cite that exception when it went into closed session. The PAC concluded that the City Council violated OMA.

PAC Op. 16-014: (advance notice rule for recording meetings unreasonable)
In PAC Op. 16-014, a watchdog group filed a complaint with the PAC alleging that the local school district board violated the Open Meetings Act when it prohibited him from recording the board's open session. The board had rejected his request made 10 minutes before the meeting based on a local board policy that required a person to notify the board president or superintendent in advance. Although the board's recording policy was silent on what advance notice was required, the board had applied the policy to require 24 hours advance notice. The board explained that the advance notice was required to ensure that the recording equipment was properly placed to avoid recording the images of students in attendance at a school board meeting. The PAC rejected the board's arguments and ruled that the school board's "advance notice" requirement for recording board meetings was not reasonable under the OMA. The PAC noted that the board had not cited any compelling reason for requiring advance notice (the PAC did not accept the board's argument that children may be present, instead stating that the board could simply move its meetings if it were concerned about student privacy.

PAC Op. 16-015: (final action on item not on agenda violates OMA)
In PAC Op. 16-015, a village trustee filed a complaint with the PAC alleging that his board violated the OMA by voting on an item that was not on the agenda. At a board meeting, one of the board members made a motion to approve a settlement agreement under the agenda item identified as "Old Business." The minutes showed that the board attorney had cautioned the board that it could not take action on the agreement because it was not on the minutes. Nevertheless, the board took a vote and the motion passed. The PAC found the board in violation of the OMA for taking final action on a matter that was not identified on the agenda.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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