Atlanta, IL. (ECWd) –
During its June 20, 2019 meeting, the Atlanta Library District Board of Trustees had an Agenda item for action on “Settlement of Edgar County Watchdogs Lawsuit” which was the result of the Library’s decision to violate the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to provide an unredacted copy of a Grand Jury Subpoena.
I informed the Library at the time, that their FOIA violation would result in a lawsuit, and would cost them money, and they would end up providing the unredacted subpoena in the end anyway. They refused to listen…maybe because it could have had election consequences for them, or maybe because they were simply trying to hide the fact that there were Federal investigations going on, contrary to their campaign messages.
After the executive session, a library employee apparently went on a rant about how these FOIAs cost money and this was simply a piece of paper that didn’t amount to anything, and now the Library is having to pay lots of money to settle this lawsuit. My response is that since she said this was simply a piece of paper that amounted to nothing, why was it not provided under FOIA as the law requires? She should look into the mirror when placing blame.
Randy Brooks submitted his report to the board, and contained within the report is a statement regarding FOIA and the lawsuit:
“Staff continued to fill FOIA requests throughout the year. In March 2019, a watchdog group filed a lawsuit against the Library regarding FOIA request for a subpoena that was provided with redactions. While such complaints are usually handled through the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor, the PAC was bypassed on this occasion, resulting in legal fees for the Library. A resolution is currently pending regarding this lawsuit.”
So he tries blame-shifting to the victim of their FOIA violations, refusing to accept responsibility for withholding public records.
There is no such thing as “bypassing the PAC” – the FOIA law provides for remedy in civil court, or thru the AG. That choice is left to the aggrieved party. To claim the PAC was bypassed, is to insinuate the aggrieved party is at fault.
For the record, the PAC was not “bypassed” and that is not what resulted in the Library paying legal fees. They knew well in advance of the lawsuit that it would be filed and that they would be paying legal fees (theirs and ours) and that they would be providing the unredacted subpoena.
The blame for having to spend taxpayer funds to settle this suit lies squarely on the backs of the board members, their attorney, and the FOIA officer – but mainly the FOIA officer as it is her duty to provide the records requested.