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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PAC Finds Another City in Violation of FOIA

The PAC recently issued another binding opinion, Public Access Opinion 17-007,  finding the City of Benton in violation of FOIA.  The City received a FOIA request seeking agendas and minutes for the Benton Airport for 2013, 2014, and 2015, and forwarded the request to the Airport Board.  A member of the Airport Board responded asking for a 5 day extension as it had not yet appointed a FOIA officer.  When the requester still did not receive the requested information, she filed a Request for Review with the PAC claiming that the City violated FOIA.  In response to the Request for Review, the City argued that since the FOIA request pertained to the Airport, it should be directed to the Airport, which the City claimed is a separate entity, and not to the City. PAC Op. 17-007.

The PAC first evaluated the extension, finding it inappropriate under Section 3(e) of FOIA, which does not allow a public body to unilaterally extend the time for response because of a lack of a designated FOIA officer.  Further, the requester did not agree to any extension of time. 

Next, the PAC disagreed with the  City’s contention that the Airport is a separate entity.  Although the Airport has its own board and adopts it own laws, the PAC found that the Airport was a City-owned property, and the Board was created by City ordinance. The Airport Board members are also appointed and may be removed by the City’s mayor and Airport funds are maintained in the City treasury.  Further, the PAC noted that the Airport Board submits reports to the City, and is listed as a City Board on the City’s website.  The PAC found that these facts showed that the City is responsible for responding to the FOIA request, just as it would be for other municipal departments.  In sum, the PAC found that the City violated Section 3(d) of FOIA by failing to respond and ordered the City to comply with the request.  

Post Authored by Erin Pell, Ancel Glink


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