PARIS, IL. (ECWd) –
A Freedom Of Information Act Request submitted 2 years and 18 days ago (that’s right, over 2 years ago) finally received a determination by the Illinois Attorney General’s Office this week.
Arcola Township, pay special attention to this one, you will see it again in November 🙂
“Violates First FOIA – Ordered to Produce Records – Violates FOIA Again”
On October 4, 2011 I submitted a FOIA request for copies of the ETSB cell phone bills for the past 5 years. The request was improperly denied, and after submitting a request for review to the Illinois Attorney General, the ETSB had been directed to provide the requested records (see this article). A normal person would think that would be the end of it and the records would be produced in accordance with the law.
Not so fast! Mrs. Crippes determined, all on her own, that I should pay what the cell phone companies charged the ETSB for the records, and that she could redact information that was not allowed to be redacted. Both in violation of the law. The law is very clear on the subject, if the records are maintained by a contracted party (the cell phone company), they are considered in the possession of the public body. Being “in the possession of” the public body means that they can only charge what is allowed by the Freedom Of Information Act, which is a maximum of 15 cents per page in excess of 50 pages (per request).
So I had to submit another request for review to the Attorney General for them to spend more taxpayer money to determine, once again, that Nanette Crippes had to produce the records in accordance with the law.
“October 22, 2013 – The AG’s Determination Letter”
For the reasons that follow…the ETSB:
1. Improperly redacted cell phone statements
2. Improperly attempted to charge for the costs of obtaining records in possession of a third party
In short, the only things redactable, or “private information”, are home and personal phone numbers – and we told Nanette Crippes that at the time. The AG’s office agreed, further stating that the additional items redacted (date, time, rate, usage type, origination, destination, length of call) were not “private information”. They qualified it by stating the FOIA excluded information from the definition of “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” if it bears on the public duties of the public employees and officials.
By the board agreeing to reimburse Nanette Crippes for her cell phone bill using public funds, and by Nanette agreeing to the reimbursement, what would normally be private information (personal cell phone statements) were transformed into public records.
These records were “used” by the public body to determine how much to pay for the cell phone each month AND the AG determined that the public interest in disclosure of the records outweighs her rights to privacy since the information requested allows the public to determine if she was making personal calls during her work hours and the length of time spent on those calls. In addition, the other information fell under the definition of “use” and “expenditure” of public funds. Being such, are considered public records subject to inspection.
“Costs Of Obtaining The Records”
On the subject of the costs of obtaining the records from the cell phone company, the AG’s office cited Article VIII, paragraph 1(c), which states that “all records of the obligation, receipt and use of public funds of the State…are public records available for inspection by the public according to law”
The AG also cited the Section 2.5 of FOIA and Section 3a of the Local Records Act, which states that “reports and records of obligation, receipt, and use of public funds of the units of local government…..are public records available for inspection“. These records must also be kept at the official place of business or a designated place of business.
By reimbursing the cell phone bills, they became a public record. The bills provide documentation as to the use pf public funds, and are subject to retention and inspection. If Nanette failed to keep copies, or if the board failed to obtain copies, then the board must obtain those copies from the “third party” (cell phone company) that does have those copies, and they cannot charge the additional costs to the requester. The only costs the ETSB can charge is the maximum of 15 cents per page for anything over 50 pages.
“We Instruct The Board To…”
The AG finally instructed the board to provide the requested records, subject only to redaction of identifiable home or personal phone numbers. If the board does not possess these copies, it must obtain them from the phone company. The cost of doing so may not be passed on to the requester.