The state attorney general determined that Collinsville officials violated the Freedom of Information Act when they asked a resident to narrow her request for the city manager’s emails.
Mary Drumm, of Collinsville, submitted a request in July asking for one month’s worth of emails between City Manager Mitch Bair and the planning firm PGAV. In the past year, PGAV has prepared a tax increment financing district proposal and a business district plan for the city.
The city FOIA officer responded that the request was “unduly burdensome” because the approximately 50 emails consisted of more than 150 pages that would have to be retrieved by information technology personnel and reviewed by the FOIA officer for possible redaction of exempted information.
The city asked Drumm to narrow her request, but Drumm declined to do so and filed a request for review with the state.
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The city thinks they can do whatever they want, but now the attorney general has told them that they can’t.
The city’s response to the attorney general’s office stated that it did not deny Drumm’s request, but instead sought to narrow the scope, as there is only one employee for reviewing FOIA requests.
“Requiring the FOIA officer to review approximately 174 pages of documents burdens the operations of the city because the FOIA officer also has duties as a city clerk and administrative coordinator,” they wrote.
However, the state disagreed.
In a recent opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, they found that the city’s answer did in fact constitute denial of the request. The law states that failure to comply or request an extension within five business days is considered a denial, and specifically states that declaring a request unduly burdensome shall be treated as a denial of the request, according to the opinion.
The opinion also states that the city did not demonstrate “a clear and convincing basis” for its assertion that the burden of reviewing the emails would outweigh the public interest in disclosure of the records.
“Compliance with any FOIA request entails an administrative burden, but the issue is whether the public interest in disclosure justifies the burden,” the opinion read.
After learning of the attorney general’s ruling, Drumm said she was “excited to see that it happened.”
“The city thinks they can do whatever they want, but now the attorney general has told them that they can’t,” Drumm said.
She said she has filed multiple FOIA requests with the city in the past. “If you want transparency, it seems the only way to get it is on your own through a FOIA request,” Drumm said.
We truly believe in the freedom of information.
Mayor John Miller
Bair could not be immediately reached for comment. Mayor John Miller said he could not discuss the issue in detail without consulting the city’s attorneys because it involved continuing litigation. “We truly believe in the freedom of information,” he said.
The city was directed to comply with the opinion by providing the emails, subject to appropriate redactions, though it does have the option to appeal for judicial review.
City attorney Steve Giacoletto declined to comment. Neither Giacoletto nor Miller could say whether the city would appeal the ruling.