DuPage Co. (ECWd) -
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was designed to allow the public full access to applicable public records in the possession of public bodies and the law outlines that the people own those records.
FOIA games are what we call it when public bodies fail to provide certain records that are in fact subject to FOIA. In some cases it is an innocent mistake but in many others it is intentional because the information contained, if released, brings exposure to matters that are either illegal or clearly an embarrassment to those tied to the documents.
I sent a FOIA to the College of DuPage for numerous documents of which one item was for the following:
- Copy of all emails sent to or received from [email protected] since January 2009.
I sent a FOIA to DuPage County as well.
- Copy of all e-mails sent and received by Chairman Cronin to/from Robert Breuder since December 1 of 2010.
- Copy of all e-mails sent and received by Chairman Cronin to/from any e-mail ending in @cod.edu since December 1 of 2010
Looking at those two requests you would think we would get duplicate results from each public body, however, that was not the case, even remotely!
As I reviewed the communications, it became clear there are missing records from both public bodies. The question now is why? Was this an intentional suppression of public records or a simple mistake? Considering the history with those collecting records at the College of DuPage, I believe it is intentional. I don't believe it is the FOIA officer, but rather those responsible for collecting the requested information within the institution.
In regards to the County, they too are not off to a good start considering they would not provide names of County Board members receiving insurance. Coverage of that lack of transparency can be read in this article.
This responsive document reflects Chairman Cronin sending a resume on behalf of a person seeking a job at COD and included his letter of recommendation. That email is in-fact an email from [email protected] so the College of DuPage should have produced that email in my FOIA request, however they did NOT provide it.
Did the College see that it was from a former COD Foundation member and County Chairman and think it best not to expose Cronin using county personnel and property to try to get a person a job at COD?
Looking at the document provided by DuPage Co. they too have a problem. The text of the email specifically outlines that there are attached documents. When an e-mail is requested, the entire e-mail is subject to FOIA to include attachments. Those attached documents are part of the e-mail and you should not have to ask for attachments as a separate request.
Everyone that uses emails know what the header section of emails shows when it's sent.
The document provided by the county does not reflect there was any attachments in the header even though the text shows there was. We know that the attachments were sent because Robert Breuder responded to Cronin on June 10th, 2014 in this email.
Of interest in the County provided e-mail from Breuder is the fact COD failed to provide that very email which was also applicable to my request.
Why was the "Attachment" header missing from the County produced email?
For those that will jump to the defense of the County and claim that maybe they just forgot to attach the documents in the e-mail and they sent it in another email, understand that had had they sent a second email with the documents attached, that e-mail would have been part of the responsive documents and it was not.
This is just a very small sample of the FOIA games being played with public records. Some insist these are just simple mistakes or search errors, however, I disagree. When you ask for specific e-mail addresses the odds of those types of errors are diminished substantially if not completely.
We have submitted additional FOIA requests to the county for the above referenced attachments and will share those when they are produced. The same FOIA is going to COD.
In addition, since this is just one example and there are many more, we have talked with COD legal counsel who is going to review the information and try to get to the bottom of why certain records are not being provided.
For those who are interested, you can review the responsive e-mail documents provided in these referenced requests from COD and the County by downloading them here:
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