McHenry Co. (ECWd) -
For months we recieved complaints that the Algonquin Township Clerk was never at the office. It appeared the McHenry County Blog was getting the same feedback, an assumption we took because of a request for records they made and were denied by the Township. Specifically, entry data for the Clerk for her office and the main entrance. Cal Skinner received a determination letter from the AG PAC office confirming the Township violated FOIA and directed them to turn over the requested records. Anyone surprised the AG found them in violation of FOIA?
We asked for the record that the Township was directed to turn over in that case. The Township provided this record for the Clerks office entry information and this record for the Main entrance information. Note the redactions in those two documents. Along with the redacted records, Kelly's firm provided this response letter. Note that the letter makes no reference as to why there were redactions. Every public body we have dealt with to date, with a few minor exceptions, has either explained or cited an exemption when the responsive records have redactions. Not the case with Algonquin Township.
When a public record being provided also has information that was not requested but is not exempt, there is no duty to redact nonexempt information. In fact, even if the record provided does contain exempt information, the public body can still provide it or they "may" redact the information. History on redactions in this state has been that when it happens, the public body tells you why there are redactions. Again, not the case with Algonquin Township.
(5 ILCS 140/7) (from Ch. 116, par. 207)
Sec. 7. Exemptions.
(1) When a request is made to inspect or copy a public record that contains information that is exempt from disclosure under this Section, but also contains information that is not exempt from disclosure, the public body may elect to redact the information that is exempt. The public body shall make the remaining information available for inspection and copying. Subject to this requirement, the following shall be exempt from inspection and copying:
We have two options. File an FOIA lawsuit or ask the AG PAC office to review the matter. We chose the AG route as the only real issue is to get an explanation as to why items were redacted. Had the attorney simply stated the reason for the redactions in the response letter there would have been no need to seek a review from the AG PAC office. For those wondering why we didn't just ask the attorney who sent the letter, that answer is simple but disturbing. To date, Kelly's office has all but ignored our communications for clarifications on their response. We suspected this would be no different and chose to go the route of having the AG PAC get an answer to the question on redactions.
After the Attorney General recieved the explanation for the redactions and provided their determination that the Township did not violate FOIA by redacting the information, Trustee Lawrence took to social media and posted the determination letter along with this statement:
Sadly for the citizens of Algonquin Township, Trustee Lawrence just doesn't get it and her unprofessional comment reflects as much. This matter has nothing to do with us or any fabricated implication that there could have been any payday. She has ignored that the payday goes to the attorney for something that could have been avoided had they simply explained why the records contained redactions and the claim of wanting to be transparency is nothing but lip service.
While Lawrence says "sh*t, say the Edgar Counter bloggers, we are saying sh*t, did you read the records provided?
Had a simple explanation been provided as to why the information was redacted there would have been no need to ask the AG to look into it. More importantly, is the fact what was redacted is not exempt information. So why go to the trouble of redacting information that is not exempt? It's not as if there is a problem giving out too much information is there?
Transparency is not a hard concept to grasp unless you're Algonquin Township. To date, they have managed to become the worst public body we have ever dealt with as it relates to FOIA to include an inability to provide even the most basic of public records. When the PAC finds them in fault, the response behind the scene is, who cares, its a nonbinding opinion. Their attorney actually has ignored the AG PAC office and that inaction is the reason behind the Township facing an OMA lawsuit.
All that aside, the AG PAC office confirmed that "The Township's June 21, 2019, correspondence to this office clarified that the redactions were made to information that was not responsive to the language of the FOIA request in 2018 PAC 54625; specifically, the Township redacted information detailing access to various offices on the Township's campus for individuals other than the clerk."
Did you catch that? There was no claim of the redacted information being exempt.
Why the Township had to redact nonexempt information that appeared on the same spreadsheet as the requested information is beyond our understanding. Redacting nonexempt information found in the same record as the requested information just tells the public the Township or its attorney has no interest in real transparency.
What should be of interest from the record that was provided, other than the redacted public information, the number of days in approximately 8 months the Clerk used the key fob to access her office. We count 20 days in 8 months. While that clearly disputes the Clerk is never in the office, it does shed light on why we recieved so many complaints about her not being there very often.
Maybe during the next compensation setting resolution action, the board can think long and hard about what the Clerk's position is really worth in relation to the time spent doing the job.
We have said it before and will say it again, this Board of Trustees needs to terminate their legal counsel unless all of his actions are being done at the direction of the trustees. If that is the case, good luck to the voters in Algonquin Township during your next election.