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Thursday, December 11, 2014

McCormick Place Convention Leases Not Exempt under FOIA

The PAC recently issued its 16th opinion for 2015.  PAC Op. 14-016.  There, a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times had filed a FOIA request with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPET) for copies of lease agreements for all conventions and trade shows at McCormick Place since January of 2011.  MPET responded by asking the reporter to narrow his request because it would be unduly burdensome to provide 243 license agreements.  MPET also asserted that certain information relating to financial and square footage data was exempt as confidential and proprietary under section 7(1)(g) of FOIA because release would put McCormick Place at a disadvantage in competing for conventions and trade shows.  MPET further argued that it would undermine the show organizer's ability to freely negotiate pricing with other centers.

The reporter declined to narrow his request, and instead filed a complaint with the PAC.  The PAC rejected MPET's reliance on the "trade secret and commercial or financial information" exemption, finding that this exemption only protects information obtained from a person or business that would cause competitive harm to that business, not the public body.  Further, the PAC argued that the Illinois constitution requires all records relating to the receipt and use of public funds to be open to the public.  

The PAC also rejected MPET's argument on appeal that the financial terms of the lease are exempt as valuable formula "when disclosure could reasonably be expected to produce private gain or public loss" under section 7(1)(i).  The PAC asserted that this exemption does not apply to "basic lease agreement information" such as rental amounts or leased square footage.  

Finally, the PAC rejected MPET's argument that compliance would be unduly burdensome. Although the 235 lease agreements encompass 3,500 pages, because the PAC rejected all of MPET's cited exemptions, there would be no need to review and redact any information.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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