CARLINVILLE, IL. (ECWd) -
From all appearances, the City of Carlinville, and by extension its Mayor Deanna Demuzio, has decided to spend money on an attorney instead of properly replying to a Freedom Of Information Act request. This has cost the taxpayers of Carlinville at least two-and-a-half times the amount of fees they are trying to shake me down for, for copies of requested public records.
Here's how it is working:
A petition objection was filed against the incumbent Mayor alleging she campaigned for petition signatures in the city's buildings, among other things, and used those signatures as part of her reelection petition package.
On January 16, 2017 I submitted a Freedom Of Information Act ("FOIA") request for public records consisting of copies of the recorded Municipal Electoral Board Hearings, copies of petitions, copies of other correspondence, and copies of their Electoral Board's meeting notices, minutes, and agendas.
According to the invoice from Schuering Law, they charged the City of Carlinville $481.25 to "review" my FOIA request and draft a letter to me. They did this part in a timely manner and within two days of receiving the request for records. However, they did not respond to the request, I did not receive any records, and I did not receive any letter until nearly a full month later.
It took Schuering Law 2.95 hours and $481.25 to "review" my FOIA and fail to respond to it. They could have simply copied and sent the requested records in far less time.
On February 14, 2017, Schuering Law signed and mailed a letter to me claiming the city had determined my request was a commercial request, stated they would take 35 days to respond to it, and that I had to pay $200 up front before they gathered any of the requested records.
As a refresher, FOIA requires the public body respond to an FOIA request within 5 business days after receipt of the request. Failing to do that violates Section 3(d) of FOIA. See Attorney General Binding Opinions No's: 14-011, 14-014, 15-011, 15-012, 15-013, 16-001, 16-003, 16-004, 16-005, 16-010, and 16-011.
It appears that one of two things have happened here; either the city (Mayor Deanna Demuzio) intentionally held the records by themselves, or the attorney convinced them to hold the records. In either case, it appears their intent is to keep the press from writing about alleged complaints of their electoral board hearing process and of the incumbent Mayor's petition sheets.
Commercial Request: The very definition of a request for commercial purposes exempts news media and non-profit, among others, from their requests being classified as a commercial request. My original FOIA request clearly indicated it was not a commercial request and that I qualified as "news media" as that term is defined in the Act.
To put it simply, the City of Carlinville cannot classify my request for public records as a commercial request, or a request for commercial purposes. This is clearly an attempt at avoiding providing these records until after the upcoming election where the incumbent Mayor has opposing candidates on the ballot.
Now they have incurred more debt in relation to this FOIA request by presumably paying their attorney to answer an inquiry from the Illinois Attorney General's Public Access Counselor ("PAC"). They will spend more taxpayer funds hiding these records before it is over, and they will provide the records without shaking me down for $200.
I suggest the elected city council members refuse to pay any more invoices related to keeping these public records from the public.
Carlinville's FOIA Denial and labeling as a Commercial request:
My response to their denial:
My request for Review sent to the PAC:
PAC's (2017 PAC 46424) letter of inquiry to the City of Carlinville: