Attorney General

Orland Park Public Library Blocks Email to Prevent FOIA Request, Busted By Attorney General’s Office

ORLAND PARK, ILLINOIS (ECWd)

The Orland Park Public Library apparently manipulated its email server somehow to block a recent Freedom of Information Act request from this author, made on August 4th, 2017 for documents related to what appears to be possible violations of the Illinois Local Government Travel Expense Control Act (50 ILCS 150).

On that date earlier this month, FOIA requests made to the OPPL via email to the public body’s FOIA compliance officer Mary Adamowski and its Board Members were blocked, with a message returned from the Library’s server stating: Message blocked. Your message to FOIA@orlandparklibrary.org has been blocked. See technical details below for more information.

The “technical details” that followed in the “Message Blocked” text stated: The response was: 550 permanent failure for one or more recipients (jleafblad@orlandparklibrary.org: blocked, ekleis@orlandparklibrary.org: blocked, cbarcelona@orlandparklibrary.org: blocked…)

In total, the August 4th, 2017, FOIA request that was emailed to Adamowski as well as OPPL Trustees Joanna Leafblad, Elan Kleis, Christian Barcelona, Dan McMillan, and Nancy Wendt Healy was blocked, with the Google Mail delivery subsystem indicating that the BarracudaNetworks.com server for the domain “orlandpark.org” had rejected receipt of the FOIA request. A separate “Message Blocked” email was received from the Library’s server for each email address that was sent the August 4th FOIA request. Seven such “Message Blocked” notifications were received.

This request sought further information into the suspicious spending engaged in by OPPL Director Mary Weimar and the OPPL’s refusal to produce an itemized receipt to support her recent purchases with the Library’s Visa card. The blocked email also contained a letter to the OPPL Board of Trustees, petitioning the Board to involve itself in this matter to ensure that the OPPL complied with its written policies when it came to employees producing receipts to support their reimbursement requests.

Back in 2014, the Village of Orland Park attempted a similar stunt with blocking certain email addresses from being able to send FOIA requests. The Village and its Police Department were then sued in chancery court over that FOIA violation, ultimately being forced to settle the lawsuit for $12,000 and being compelled to end their unlawful practice of blocking certain email addresses from being able to send the Village FOIA requests. It was argued in that lawsuit that the Village’s computer servers received an FOIA request at the moment of its transmission via email, even if Village employees never were allowed to see the FOIA request because the Village had intentionally blocked certain requesters from being able to email the Village; the FOIA statute does not allow any public body to block anyone from making an FOIA request to the public body via email. Period.

It should be noted that the Village of Orland Park and the Orland Park Public Library are separate public bodies but retain the same law firm, Klein Thorpe Jenkins. Through the years, tactics employed by the Village of Orland Park have been suspiciously similar in this author’s opinion to tactics employed by the Orland Park Public Library when it comes to hiding documents, stalling production of documents, refusing to comply with FOIA requests, hassling the public, etc. These similarities in negative or hostile behavior towards the public are very possibly due to the same attorneys from Klein Thorpe Jenkins advising both the Village and the Library. In this author’s view, the Klein Thorpe Jenkins law firm seems to operate with a mindset that facilitates what a public body wants to do instead of preventing that public body from doing something that is wrong or violates the public’s rights in some way. The 2016 book SHUT UP!: The Bizarre War that One Public Library Waged Against the First Amendment is chock full of examples of Klein Thorpe Jenkins attorneys encouraging or facilitating an aggressively negative stance against the public and in hindrance of transparency, as opposed to intervening on the side of the public and preventing a public body from violating the law and doing things it arguably should never be doing to the public.

The Attorney General’s Office of the Public Access Counselor was informed of the Orland Park Public Library’s apparent email blocking via a Request for Review filed on August 4th, shortly after the OPPL’s server sent the notification that the FOIA request was blocked.

Assistant Attorney General Neil P. Olson received the Request for Review and questioned the OPPL about this matter on August 11th, writing to them: Mr. DuJan alleges that an e-mail he sent on August 4, 2017, with an FOIA request was blocked by the library (see attached).  Could you please advise me why Mr. DuJan’s e-mail address appears to be blocked, and remedy the situation as necessary.  Please also respond to Mr. DuJan’s FOIA request in accordance with section 3 of FOIA.

In this instance, the OPPL appears to have chosen to not fight the AG’s office and they responded to the August 4th FOIA request on August 14th, 2017, (five business days from the first business day (a Monday) after the OPPL’s server received the blocked email containing the FOIA that was sent to them on Friday, August 4th).

If the OPPL hadn’t responded on or by August 14th, that public body would have been in violation of our state’s FOIA statute. In this author’s experience, it appears to be standard operating procedure for the OPPL to insist on extensions for almost all FOIA production, so their response coming so soon after Assistant AG Olson’s inquiry about the email blocking was unusual for them.

This episode underscores a good rule of thumb when dealing with a public body whom an FOIA requester believes is doing something it is not allowed to do under the FOIA statute: immediately either contact the PAC’s office and ask for their help in mediating the situation or hire a lawyer to sue the public body in court, especially if that public body is doing anything that results in emailed FOIA requests being blocked by the public body’s server.

No public body is allowed to block FOIA requests. The OPPL’s lightning quick actions after receiving the Assistant AG’s direction to comply shows that even the most recalcitrant public body will often heed the AG’s office when direct instructions like that are issued to them by the PAC.
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9 replies »

  1. Barracuda is an automated system that tracks email frequency. If you mail them enough it could flag you as spam and block you.

    • That FOIA request was the first time I had emailed them in about a week. And they blocked my personal email account too when I tried to re-send the FOIA using a different email address. So they blocked my IP address, which they were not allowed to do. This is the same tactic that the Village of Orland Park tried to block FOIA requests in 2014 and they were sued for it…and lost. The OPPL seems to have undone whatever they did to block my FOIA requests once the AG’s office got involved. Imagine that.

  2. The exposure you have done with this library is heroic. I hope the public knows you and you run for Library Board.

  3. when the elected have all the power, do not work, cannot be fired, have legislated away all our rights, will not listen or respond* and want only our money, more and more and more to make themselves wealthy with absurd salaries and pensions and benefits and access to feed themselves and their friends whenever and wherever they chose, there is no answer, action or words left for us, other than to challenge them with a tax revolt. AND IT’S COMING. *Like at any board meeting, village trustees, park, library, they allow us 3-5 minutes and sit there like the 3 monkeys e.g., covered eyes, mouth, ears.

  4. Your next to the last paragraph is well taken, however, hiring a lawyer is not always financially possible for the average citizen or small organization. Or, for that matter an option, as depending on the circumstances some lawyers won’t want to tangle with the public body who they may in the future have dealings with.
    I agree with “calling the public body” on the issue. In my county – a public body upper level employee personally called me after I submitted the FOIA request – asked why I did the foia request, said he & his staff was too busy to look it up. When I stated just send me that in writing. I got an e-mail with the same too busy. I finally quoted the law. Told him send me a refusal and why in writing. After much going back & forth he honored the request.
    In my personal dealings it was been with the executive director and business managers not with the lower level managers who try to hinder openness.

    • The Illinois FOIA statute provides for full recovery of attorneys’ fees. If a public body has violated the FOIA or OMA statutes, not only are attorneys’ fees on the table but when it comes to FOIA there are penalties that the public body potentially has to pay to the person who had to take them to court. There are many attorneys whose practice includes going after bad public bodies and compelling them to obey the law.

  5. do the PEOPLE TAXPAYERS OF ORLAND PARK realize they pay for their suffocation? It’s too outrageous and they ought to be considering deducting the portion on their Real Estate tax bills, that chunk for the library and send their payment with the explanation. They ought to start a grassroots movement to do this. This is like paying your own good money for the henchman to hang you.

    • In my opinion the worst part of all this is how that Library lies to the public. Every few years, the Library burns through all its money by sending its employees on fancy trips (San Francisco, Denver, New York, you name it) and buying them all kinds of food. They also waste money on ridiculous things, like 3D printers (just to brag they have one). When they realize they are out of money, they lie to the public and claim that unless they get a higher tax levy passed, they will have to stop reading to children and will have to stop giving books to senior citizens. This is VERY similar to what PBS used to do with Sesame Street: they would threaten the public that they would have to kill Big Bird unless a ransom was paid. Either donate or lobby the government to give PBS more money, or Big Bird and the other muppets go away. PBS lied by never telling the public how many multi-millions Sesame Street makes each year in merchandise and licensing. The threat of killing Big Bird was an emotional one, meant to make people so afraid that their children would be emotionally hurt that they would want to give PBS whatever it demanded. The same is true with the OPPL. Whenever they run themselves into the red, they don’t say they need more money to feed Mary Weimar or send her to restaurants for good times. They threaten to stop reading to children and kill story time. Of all the things that the people running that strange messed-up Library have done over the years, lying about why they need the tax levy hikes is the most despicable in my opinion. And that was a tall order, surpassing the many other despicable things they do in that place.

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