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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Records Pertaining to Housing Task Force Subject to FOIA

An appellate court recently issued an opinion finding a "housing task force" of a municipality to be a public body subject to FOIA. City of Danville v. Madigan, 2018 IL App (4th) 170182.

A FOIA request was filed with the City in 2015 requesting copies of documents relating to the City's housing task force, including meeting notices, minutes, and all electronic communications between members of the task force and City employees or officials. The City denied the request on the basis that the records were not "public records" because the task force was not a public body subject to FOIA. The requester appealed to the Attorney General's PAC office, which found the City in violation of FOIA. Specifically, the PAC stated that the records were in the possession of the City, and related to business of the City, so the City was obligated to respond to the FOIA request. We reported on the PAC's binding opinion on the blog here. A circuit court agreed with the PAC, and the City appealed to the appellate court.

The appellate court first considered, and rejected, the City's argument that since the housing task force was not a public body, the records were not subject to FOIA. The court noted that the FOIA request was submitted to the City, not the task force, and the City is clearly a public body. 

So, in the court's view, the relevant issue was not whether the task force was a public body but whether the requested records were "public records" subject to FOIA. Based on the definition of "public records," documents are subject to FOIA if they pertain to the "transaction of public business." The court determined that they did pertain to public business because the task force's express mission was to make recommendations to the City on its housing strategy - a public interest rather than a private one. The court also determined that the City was "in possession of" the public records for purposes of FOIA. 

The court did not agree with the City's argument that its ruling would open up every piece of paper in City hall to inspection by the public, since there were exemptions that might apply to a particular record. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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