Saturday, August 7, 2010

Dorr Township and FOIA

How hard is it for a local government entity to understand and comply with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)? It shouldn't be that hard.

When anyone (media, voter, resident, or anyone) submits a FOIA request, the government entity (State, city, town, village, township, school district, etc.) doesn't have a choice about responding. It must respond and within a fairly short period of time.

It has some choices. It can respond completely and clearly (and probably reduce the frequency or depth of future FOIA requests) or it can stone-wall residents by claiming exemptions under FOIA.

Earlier this year Dorr Township had to appoint a Town Clerk to replace the elected Clerk who had abruptly resigned. Letters of interest were submitted, and Quinn Keefe came out on top of the pile.

Under FOIA I requested a copy of Quinn's application for the job, and the Township responded with a copy of Quinn's resume. On that copy the Township redacted all references to the name of Quinn's former employer, where he had been the Executive Director for about six years. (Quinn's resume was posted on his website) It also redacted the name of an organization that had awarded Quinn its "2009 Citizen of the Year" Award.

You'd have to have been in a coma for the past six years not to know that Quinn had been employed by the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. How could releasing the name of the Chamber cause an unwarranted invasion of privacy? And the "2009 Citizen of the Year" Award? Wouldn't that be an award with media publicity?

The Township wasted money trying to defend its position to the Public Access Counselor (P.A.C.) at the Illinois Attorney General's office, because the Township Attorney had to be paid to write a lengthy letter to defend the Township's position. Last month when I saw a letter from the Township to another resident that disclosed the Award as having been made by the Woodstock Moose Lodge, I called off the P.A.C. in the interest of saving Illinois taxpayers' money.

The position of the Township was indefensible; I just didn't force them to their knees, once I had the answer from another source.

In another example of creating unnecessary resistance to concerned residents, Dorr Township refused to release information about soil borings tests at the Township Highway Department. What possible need for secrecy could exist? The Township had stone-walled a resident for months. The P.A.C. recently denied the Township's request to withhold those test results.

Dorr Township is probably not heading toward bankruptcy due to legal fees (like Grafton Township to our south), but the elected officials would serve residents and electors best by recognizing that they are elected by the resident to serve the residents! They can conduct Township business openly, or knowledgeable residents will force them to their knees.

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