MARSHALL, IL. (ECWd) –
This article builds on the previous article talking about an Alderman’s right to attend closed sessions of a committee of the City Council and the attorney providing bad advice.
Since we know for a fact that aldermen, trustees, board members, etc cannot be banned from attending closed session meetings of (sub)committees of the public body they sit on, the next question to answer is whether an alderman must use the Freedom Of Information Act to obtain copies of public records of the public body they represent. Additionally, when that alderman does receive records, do they have to pay for those copies if they exceed 50 pages?
The answer to both questions is “NO!” An elected official is not required to request records under the FOIA act and they cannot be made to pay for copies.
In an Informal Attorney General Opinion from 1996, the question was asked on whether a community college trustee could be refused access to records if they we subject to redaction under the FOIA. The short answer was NO – a trustee cannot be refused access to records of the public body they sit on. In arriving at this opinion, the AG referenced several court cases. The first being Oberman v Byrne from 1983 where a writ of mandamus was upheld compelling disclosure of records to any member of a city council. Second was Wayne Township Board of Auditors v Vogel, 1979, where a township supervisor was compelled to produce records. Finally, Stone v Kellogg, 1895, where the court found that a majority of a board cannot exclude the minority from knowledge of or access to its files and records. Stating that it was not merely a right to access records, it was a trustee’s duty to keep informed. Preventing access to records was inconsistent with the duties of a trustee. The same can be said for any elected official’s access to records.
Let’s put all of this together… An Alderman has the right to attend closed sessions of the city council and all committees of the city council. Since he has that right, he also has the right to review and have access to all records used or produced during those closed sessions. This includes all minutes, and audio and video tapes of closed sessions whether he was in attendance at the time or not. Since he cannot be banned from the meetings, he cannot be denied access to the recordings.
What does the City of Marshall do?
Mayor Sanders makes a determination to deny access to those records and recordings to an Alderman that has requested them. Of course, he is merely acting on the bad advice of the city attorney who stated that he had advised Mayor Sanders to not allow access to the records, the attorney did say that access would be allowed when all city council members were present during a closed session to determine whether to keep them or destroy them. My question is where is this stipulation in written into any law or court determination? The answer is that it isn’t and it is unreasonable to think otherwise.
Mayor Sanders, provide access to those records requested by an elected alderman. You do not possess to right to keep them from any alderman that requests them. You cannot hide behind the FOIA Officer or the attorney since this is not a FOIA issue and the attorney is simply providing his opinion – it is your decision of whether or not to listen to that ill conceived opinion.
Mayor Sanders, I urge you to read the latest article from Illinois Policy.org dealing with public records. The title of the article is “It is now a Class 4 Felony to hide public records in Illinois“. The General Assembly has recognized that access to public records is a RIGHT that must be protected at all cost. Please read it, it will be an eye-opener for you (click here).
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