CARLINVILLE, IL. (ECWd) -
This article is a response to the hatchet job published by The 'Burnian, the newspaper of Blackburn College.
Nowhere in the article does it disclose that Mayor Deanna Demuzio is also a Board Member of Blackburn College, and it never mentions Kraft had asked for the city to provide copies of all agreements and contracts between Blackburn College and the City of Carlinville. It is also important to note that Kraft was never contacted for comment until long after he requested copies of those agreements and contracts. Did Demuzio's position at the college and Kraft's inquiry into contracts have anything to do with this hatchet job? We will leave that up to you to decide.
The writer of the article, Gary Lowder, claimed in its title that "Watchdogs Attack Carlinville Mayor Deanna Demuzio: Watchdogs Investigated for Interfering in Mayoral Election." At first, we thought it was a great April Fool's Joke from the way it read, but turns out it wasn't meant as a joke. While some might think we "attacked" the Mayor, we fail to understand how it can be claimed as an attack when we simply pointed out that Mayor Demuzio, who has the power to instruct the city attorney to release public records, has chosen instead to instruct the city attorney to unlawfully claim the Freedom Of Information Act request was somehow "a commercial request", demand $200 from Kraft to produce the records, and pay many times that amount in attorney fees in order to try and collect on that $200. Yes, we did write about Demuzio's withholding of public records. Her timing seemed suspect as it was so close to the election, which is why we also wrote an article asking if she was using this opportunity, and public funds, to bolster her campaign thru keeping public records from the public.
As far as ECWd being "investigated" for interfering in the mayoral election - we have no knowledge of any investigation, deny any claims of interfering with an election, and have asked the author what information he has pointing to an actual investigation. A failed and former newspaper owner had mentioned on his Facebook page that the Attorney General had told him the letter he sent them was being given to the AG's Public Integrity Bureau. One look at the AG's PIB website, and it is clear their jurisdiction is over the employees and officers of the Executive Branch of government. Giving a letter to someone is hardly justification for claiming an investigation is underway.
Lowder also misled the readers, in what appears to be an obvious attempt to discredit ECWd, in his interpretation of the citizen's arrest conducted against the Clark County Park District several years ago. It was a legitimate citizen's arrest on that board for refusing to allow public comment at its meeting, which is a crime in Illinois - a Class C Misdemeanor according to Section 4 of the Open Meetings Act, and punishable by a fine of up to $1500 and 30 days in jail (see the University of Illinois' website on "OMA Training with the Attorney General's Office" page 36) and at the 1:06:25 mark in this online training video used by the University of Illinois (here) . The person who "walks away from him [Kraft]" actually went into the other room and waited for the Sheriff to show up - but Lowder didn't mention that part. The BGA did an article on it, the American Bar Association, National Law Review, Municipal Minute, and Channel 5 News out of Chicago all reported on it favorably. AncelGlink Legal Firm (and others) are now teaching public bodies that they subject themselves to citizen's arrest if they refuse public comment at a public meeting. If it was not legitimate, why would it be taught to public bodies?
He talks about requesting "huge amounts of information" but fails to compare that statement against the Illinois Freedom Of Information Act's definition of "voluminous" [5 ILCS 140.2(h) and 3.6] and "recurrent requester" [5 ILCS 140/2(g) and 3.2] for what the legislature has determined to be "huge amounts" or "frequent requesters." He also talks about finding the "smallest mistakes in a city's bills" without providing readers with any examples of these supposedly "smallest mistakes" but simply expecting to be believed.
Public bodies who unlawfully deny public records deserve all the public ridicule they receive, and in the words of the Better Government Association: "We never beg - We sue" - just kidding...we attempt to reason with a public body once, then we either sue or ask the Attorney General to intervene thru a request for review.
Lowder claims we "accused Carlinville Mayor Deanna Demuzio of hiding the city's credit card statements from the public" - We admit that - because it is the truth, she is hiding the city's credit card statements from the public.
Next Lowder misinterprets the definition of "Commercial Purpose" found in Section 2(c-10) of FOIA. It has nothing to do with a person's ability to participate competitively in any commercial activity... - makes us wonder if he even read that section of FOIA before poking it out thru his keyboard.
Demuzio claims the Edgar County Watchdogs have a big blue donate button on their website - which is absolutely false and leads us to believe she has never looked at our website. It's a red button on a tan background. She claims that makes us "commercial" under law, which is another false statement. Then she claims, which is simply a regurgitation of the city attorney's letter to the AG, that "the watchdog's funding comes mainly from one-time donations, grant funding, and lawsuit settlements." More proof she has absolutely no idea what she is talking about and is simply attempting to discredit.
The "grant funding" she is claiming was actually a gift to Kirk and I (as individuals) from a private foundation and came with no strings attached and no expectations of anything - it was not a grant to the watchdogs. The "lawsuit settlements" come from settlements in our favor and were for payment of filing fees and attorney fees that had already been paid by us and cannot be considered "proceeds" since we actually lose money on each lawsuit because we cannot recoup fuel, paper, and time. The "one-time donations" do not amount to enough to even be considered "funding" unless you are talking about a lemonade stand. You can find our annual reports on the AG's website for verification.
He next claims the city determined one of my FOIA request to be "unduly burdensome" - which happened to be the request for credit card statements. The City Treasurer later wrote a comment to the ECWd website stating they are all there filed away as they should be - which indicates it was not an unduly burdensome request. The term "unduly burdensome" is defined under Section 3.1 (g) and places requirements on a public body when notifying a requester they consider it unduly burdensome. The city, in this request, failed to comply with the mandated provisions set out in law [Section 3.1(g)] when they claimed the records were unduly burdensome. In this same request, I asked for copies of training certificates of the FOIA officer and assistants - which may be anywhere between 2 and 5 people - and the city stated they need an additional 15 days to provide those 2-5 pieces of paper because of the size and complexity of the request. They needed another 15 days to provide copies of the city council's and Mayor's Open Meetings Training Certificate because the request was so large it might take that long to get the 7 pieces of paper. Laughable is what that excuse is.
"Kraft's group wasn't registered as Press with the Secretary of State until one day after he requested the information" - another Demuzio false statement; she should really quit listening to the city attorney. There is no such thing as registering as Press with the Secretary of State - what actually happened was that the corporation filed its annual report late and was labeled by the SOS as "not in compliance" which has no affect on whether it is "Press" or not, and no affect on the validity of the FOIA request.
With attorney Scheuring's comments, we wonder why the writer didn't ask about the significance of the election since Scheuring's comment was that Kraft would receive the documents after the election - is that not further proof of the ultimate intention of Demuzio, and her use of public funds in this manner?
I had submitted FOIA requests in June of 2016 without any problems receiving the response within the 5 days required by law, and the city never claimed any "commercial" purpose on it. But now, since it is close to an election, they find it convenient to stall producing public records in what appears to be a means of assisting Demuzio's campaign, considering previous requests were timely honored.
Demuzio further claims that the "FOIA request was very large" which is another false statement. What they claimed as "very large" may have been the attorney's wrongful claims that I requested transcripts, which I never requested, and that they amounted to over 600 pages. All false. I never requested transcripts so they could have never consisted of over 600 pages.
Lowder then quotes, obviously without any fact-checking, Mayor Demuzio's statement that "[Kraft] is not helping these other candidates like he is supposed to." That is a flat-out lie and was could never have been fact-checked for any resemblance of accuracy.
Lowder quotes Ambrose as being a former newspaper owner, which is only a partial truth since the newspaper failed. He quoted parts of Ambrose' letter filled with false statements in innuendos, and apparently without any attempt to check it for accuracy. The AG and State Board of Elections probably got a good laugh out of it.
Next, he quotes Demuzio as saying she wasn't hiding credit card statements because the city council gets to look at them - of course no mention of whether Lowder asked if letting the council look at them was the same as letting the public look at them (that question would have been too inconvenient). Finally, Demuzio stated that "the whole purpose of this is to get me knocked off the ballot" - really? Is that an admission of the true purpose of her using public funds and the city attorney for withholding public records until after the election? Did Lowder fact-check to see if viewing credit card statements would have kicked her off the ballot? That's a new one to us, maybe there was an emergency bll to amend the Election Code to say that "viewing credit card statements of an incumbent will disqualify them and remove them from the ballot?" - It appears I need to research the election code again, because I failed to find such language anywhere.
Finally, Lowder issues the blanket statement that "Kraft and Allen appear to have deliberately attempted to interfere with the election" and that "at this time they are still posting articles attacking the Mayor and her administration, without evidence or proof of claims." Nice job of drawing conclusions by listening to an incumbent - who happens to be on the Board at Blackburn College (The 'Burnian is Blackburn College's College Newspaper). Not to mention Mr. Allen has not written anything about this public body.
This appears to be a classic example of what we find across the state: local, traditional, ingrained media and their constant quoting of whatever they are told by public officials without worrying about fact-checking anything they are told. Don't check it - just print it.
We ask you to compare the 'Burnian's hatchet job, with all of its unsubstantiated statements attributed to the mayor and city attorney, and ask yourself if Lowder's article was not exactly what he accused our articles of being - "attacking" and "without evidence or proof of claims" and "deliberate attempt to interfere with the election"...
We have emailed the writer Gary Lowder for comment on these issues and have not received a response as of publication of this article.