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Illinois Attorney General looks into denied FOIA requests in OL

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  The Illinois Attorney General will review an Oak Lawn trustee’s partially denied request for email communications between the village manager and attorney.
  The attorney general’s Public Access Bureau on Oct. 21 asked the village to provide unredacted copies of the emails requested by Trustee Carol Quinlan.
  “We have determined that further review is warranted,” the attorney general said in a letter to the village.
  The Public Access Bureau grants most of the appeals it receives, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office said. It can decide to uphold the village’s partial denial or direct it to turn over the complete records sought by Quinlan.
  Quinlan and Trustee Robert Streit both have criticized Village Manager Larry Deetjen and Mayor Sandra Bury for not making the information available to trustees, especially because the communications are stored on village computer servers, they said.
  The Illinois Municipal Code states that the mayor has the right to inspect all records, but does not mention trustees.
  Deetjen has said that many of his emails between village legal staff and others are confidential as they regard “highly sensitive matters.”
  “Our legal counsel in concert with our village clerk’s office, police and fire departments, the building department and the finance department respond professionally to every FOIA request but do so in a manner that protects the village to the fullest extent provided by the law but also by design they answer to be responsive and transparent. Those who wish to obtain unlimited data for reasons that are not objective and in the village’s best interests certainly should understand this balancing act,” Deetjen said.
  Quinlan on Aug. 19 submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails between Deetjen and village attorneys between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012. The village partially denied her request, and provided Quinlan with a portion of the emails she requested.
  Quinlan initially requested all emails between Deetjen and the village attorney between Nov. 1, 2012, and June 1, 2013. The village denied the request claiming “that it was too burdensome because of the amount of emails that would have to be produced and reviewed by attorneys,” Quinlan wrote.
  The village told Quinlan that her request included 2,831 emails during the seven-month period plus attachments. The village asked her to narrow the date range of her request.
  Quinlan disagreed with the village’s contention. “There is nothing burdensome about producing emails,” she wrote.
  “(The village) is refusing to turn over all records, most recently stating that certain records are exempt from disclosure under attorney-client privilege,” Quinlan wrote in her request for review. “I believe that the (village) clerk has violated the Freedom of Information Act by not turning over these records.”
  Quinlan believes village’s trustees have a right to review village records without submitting FOIA requests, but not everyone shares that view.
  The village board on Oct. 8 voted against a measure proposed by Quinlan and Streit that would grant trustees unrestricted access to emails and other records.
  Trustee Terry Vorderer said that opening email records to trustees is a potential security risk. He also questioned whether requests for records are politically motivated.
  Quinlan said security should not be a concern.
  “I’m not sharing this information,” said Quinlan, who offered to review the records at village hall.
  “Something is fishy,” Quinlan said. “It bothers me that I am denied access to records. “(Village Clerk) Jane Quinlan can see it, our attorney can see it, the mayor can see it and I can’t?”
  The debate over who has the right to inspect village records began in May when former Mayor Dave Heilmann, after his defeat to Bury, asked for specific email records between Deetjen and the village attorneys because he had received multiple complaints that Deetjen improperly interfered with a million dollar contract an Oak Lawn business had with a prospective tenant, Heilmann said.
  A village employee told Heilmann that Deetjen and O’Grady instructed him not to turn over the records to Heilmann, the former mayor said.
  “I guess they felt they could get away with not following that law because I had lost the election. I did tell the attorney and manager that they were breaking the law and violating our code and made a second request, but that was ignored,” Heilmann wrote in an opinion piece to The Reporter.