Will Co. (ECWd) –
Wesley Township has been fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit since 2019 in which the former clerk admitted she was not going to provide the requested records in her Affidavit.
During the hearing for a Summary Judgement yesterday, the attorneys went back and forth on the issue of willful violation with the Township Attorney insinuating there was no willful intent to violate FOIA. To our surprise, Judge Rickmon raised a question regarding where township government is on the hierarchy of government. It came across to us as if he was trying to imply that since it’s a Township, on the bottom of the hierarchy according to him, it should make a difference in how he applies the Freedom of Information Act.
We have not found any official hierarchy of government as it relates to local governments in Illinois. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume Judge Rickmon is correct and the Township is the lowest tier on the hierarchy of local government.
There is nothing in the FOI Act that designates it to be applied differently based on any hierarchy, perceived or actual. In fact, the law is crystal clear and applies equally to all. One would think that would be the focus of a Judge, Justice is Blind, meaning it applies equally to everyone, not different to one unit of government vs. another.
“5 ICLS 140/1 – ……The General Assembly recognizes that this Act imposes fiscal obligations on public bodies to provide adequate staff and equipment to comply with its requirements. The General Assembly declares that providing records in compliance with the requirements of this Act is a primary duty of public bodies to the people of this State, and this Act should be construed to this end, fiscal obligations notwithstanding”.
The term “public bodies” is to be applied equally in this state, from the Governor all the way down the list of government entities in this state, which can be found at this link. While we do not believe the list of governments and their laws is a formal “hierarchy”, we find it most interesting to see that the General Assembly chose to put Libraries at the bottom of the assigned statutes, not Townships, which is listed 4th from the bottom, just above Municipalities.
If Hierarchy is a factor the Judge believes should be applied in this case, it will be interesting to see how that is done since they appear to not be at the bottom as implied by the Legislative number assigned to them.
Judge Rickman denied the Motion for Summary Judgement and even opined that this case is one that needs to be heard on an appeal. Having been involved in dozens of FOIA cases, we are perplexed why this case is any different than any others when it comes to the actions of this public body. The history of this Township’s violations is like few have ever witnessed, which includes our witnessing of public records getting tossed into the garbage during one of their past meetings. You can view the video at this link. The whispering was done because it was during a public meeting.
The Township’s pattern of practice from its previous group of officials was as if violating FOIA was a duty. We find it ironic that one of the current board members supporting the Township’s position is himself the recipient of a judgment against the township for violating FOIA and it was the same FOIA officer as the current case.
We have written numerous articles on Wesley Township and its official’s clear violations of both the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act.
Once a trial date is determined we will update accordingly.
Bob AndersonPosted at 14:52h, 29 August
Illinois’ township governments should be thrown into the trash ben!