CARLINVILLE, IL. (ECWd) -
It is beyond us why any purported newspaper would ever defend a public body who made it a pattern and practice to improperly deny requests for public records, vote in public session to provide said requested records, never provide them after a unanimous vote to provide them, and lie about it over and over again.
But, that is what the Macoupin County Enquirer-Democrat appears to be doing.
After the City of Carlinville started improperly denying FOIA requests, the MCED started printing all of the FOIA request to the city. Nothing wrong with that if that is what they want to fill their pages with.
They went on to publish an editorial to support what they are writing about, but took it a step or two further by claiming that people who "hide behind the name of a group to avoid having their name become part of the public record is their choice" and then stating "however sneaky or cowardly it may seem."
Is it any more "sneaky or cowardly" to publish articles without naming the writers?
For the record, this article was not about us.
There are several reasons people do not provide their names when requesting public records - to avoid intimidation by public officials, intimidation by the press, their own job security, or simply because they choose not to. It is their right to submit an anonymous FOIA request, it is the city's duty to answer it properly.
Let's face it, if a public official summoned the Police Department to your home and workplace because you were exercising your First Amendment right by posting articles critical of local governments on your own Facebook page, how could a citizen feel comfortable asking for incriminating public records?
We have hit-pieces written about us all the time (here, here, and many more) which is why we know how local media can sometimes be too quick to jump on the public official's bandwagon, and believe everything they are told without any attempt at verification.
The MCED then talks about FOIA being used as a "weapon to badger and overwhelm a FOIA officer" - I fail to see how this is even mentioned, since when the city was fielding several requests per week they never answered them - or they claimed it would take more than 21 days to produce 7 pieces of paper that they already had. How is that overwhelming? I filed several lawsuits to force the city to provide the records, I would have preferred to have had the records months ago without filing suit. But they bought the bad advice from their attorney and the residents will pay the price.
We know of at least one anonymous FOIA request to the City of Carlinville that is still unanswered, with a lawsuit being filed in the next week or so to force the city to provide the records. We know of another FOIA lawsuit against the city that we haven't reported on yet because we are trying to get file-stamped copies of the suit - but we know it is filed since it is in Judici.com.
In closing, their article appeared to be more of a whining statement about the actual FOIA requesters, than the statutory right to file a request for public records, and to do so without intimidation by the public officials you filed the request with or about. The legislature provided for relief from burdensome and frequent requests within the law, but they also defined burdensome and frequent. So far, the requests sent to the city have not met that definition.