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September 28, 2022

Clark Co. Park District: Too many FOIAs or complete incompetence?

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On July 21, 2015

Clark Co., IL. (ECWd) –
During the July 16, 2015 regular meeting of the Clark County Park District, Commissioner Terry Stepp, presumably with the insistence and guidance of Charity Murphy, stated as fact that Murphy received “12 FOIA requests in one day” and 19 in one week.
Not once was any blame placed on Charity Murphy where it rightfully belongs due to her incompetence as the Executive Director, not only in violating FOIA law, but also in providing inaccurate financial numbers to the board. No, Stepp and Kuehnel figure the public has zero right to know anything about what they do as a board and that FOIA requests are taking up too much time – never mind that the Legislature had determined that access to public records is a right and a primary duty of a public body, as much of a primary duty as anything else they do.
Now we have Gary Strohm from the Marshall Advocate repeating it as if it were gospel. Like usual, he took the easy way out and verified none of the information prior to publishing it. Keep in mind, Commissioner Ron Stone is a part-owner in the Marshall Advocate (Strohm publishing) – and as of last night, Gary Strohm is on the Finance Committee of the Clark County Park District Board where he will discuss, as a public board member, what the District spends your tax dollars on, including spending it with his newspaper.

Stepp complains about 12 FOIA requests in one day instead of Director’s failure

Back on May 22, 2015, I submitted a multi-part FOIA request that has still, to this day, has never been answered. The 5-day response time expired two months ago. Murphy asked for an extension on June 1st – today is July 21st.

Thinking it might be too difficult for the Park District office worker that was hired for the sole purpose of completing FOIA requests, I decided to break the request up into multiple requests, using one request for each paragraph of the request I had sent early in May.

To the letter of the definition of a single FOIA request, Stepp was technically correct…but here is the rest of the story.

The “12 FOIA requests in one day” consisted of:

– 9 individual requests that have never been answered from previous FOIA requests in violation of law

– a request for information related to donations that were discussed during public comment at a board meeting

– a request for land surveys completed within the past year not to include the ones for the leased lots

– a request for a copy of the proposed budget

So essentially, there were only really three new requests, with the proposed budget already in electronic form with no legal need to redact anything and could have simply been replied to as an attachment within 3 seconds (but is now late and still unanswered). Realistically, there were really only two FOIA requests sent that day.

The May 22 request is (here) and the “12 in one day” are (here).

Stepp complains about requester instead of about Director’s neglect of duty

As far as the information requested by Mr. Bogue, the Freedom of Information Act allows for a five day extension automatically under certain circumstances, and further extension with a mutual agreement with the requester. Additionally, if the public body deems the request unduly burdensome, they can simply declare that and ask the requester to narrow the request into a more manageable request (as long as it is declared within the first five days).
To sit there and moan and groan about Bogue’s request was completely ridiculous and out of line, considering that  Commissioner Stepp should have instead jumped all over Charity Murphy for being a complete failure in following the Freedom of Information Act, because if she had followed FOIA she could have declared the request unduly burdensome.
She can no longer make that claim.

5 ILCS 140/3(d) …A public body that fails to respond [within the 5 day time-frame]to a request received may not treat the request as unduly burdensome...

The bottom line here, is that had Charity Murphy actually followed the law, there would have been no problems with this or any of the other requests for information. The law provides for a public body to have the ability to extend response times, and declare certain requests as unduly burdensome – but the only way to do that is to actually respond to the requester within the five day mandate with the extension or declaration it is burdensome.
Murphy’s complete ignorance of the Freedom of Information Act needs to be dealt with as it is causing undo hardship on the citizens, the Park District, and the FOIA requestor.
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1 Comment
  • Dave L.
    Posted at 18:37h, 21 July

    Stepp and Kuehnel are great at passing the buck! According to Kuehnel, nothing can get done and they are just spinning their wheels for the last 18 months. but, THEY GOT THE SUBDIVISION PLATTED AND LAID OUT AND SURVEYED AND THE COVENANTS DONE AND THEY GOT THE DAMN THING APPROVED!! THEY MANAGED TO CLEAR AN AREA TO SHOOT THE FIREWORKS FROM!! THEY MANAGED TO FIND THE TIME TO LEASE PARK LAND TO LARRY YARGUS!! But yet, they are just spinning their wheels?? Admin deleted last sentence…

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