Mahomet, Ill. (ECWd) –
Mahomet Township spent more time and money on attorneys trying to subvert and delay responding to Freedom of Information Act requests than it would have spent simply providing the requested records.
This township decided the FOIA requester was “acting in concert with others” in submitting requests for public records, and according to the FOI Act, were designated as one person for the purposes of FOIA (Sec 2(b)). The township also indicated the number of requests exceeded the threshold for designating the requester a recurrent requester (Sections 2(g) and 3.2).
A recurrent requester designation provides the public body with extended response times – up to 21 working days to respond to requests for records.
In this case, Mahomet Township acted as if it could not properly count 12 months immediately preceding the request, as indicated in the Act as a requirement for designating a requester as recurrent – they added an additional 12 days in order to apply the designation (using whole months instead of the actual day of the month).
From the determination:
” . . . The Township’s interpretation would add an interval of time beyond 12 months; if a request was submitted on July 31, 2023, the Township’s interpretation would allow the Township to look back nearly 13 months. The Illinois Supreme Court, however, has explained that “FOIA is to be liberally construed to achieve the goal of providing the public with easy access to government information.” In re Appointment of Special Prosecutor, 2019 IL 122949, ¶ 25, 129 N.E.3d 1181, 1188; see also Rushton v. Department of Corrections, 2019 IL 124552, ¶ 39, 160 N.E.3d 929, 942 (“The statute is to be construed broadly in favor of disclosure.”). In light of the purpose of FOIA and the common understanding of the meaning of “immediately,” this office again concludes that the language “in the 12 months immediately preceding the request” means the 52 weeks prior to the date of submission.”
“This office reviewed the number of FOIA requests that the Township relied upon in support of its assertion that Mr. Anderson was a recurrent requester, and even assuming Mr. Anderson was acting with other requesters as a group that constituted one “person,” there is no indication that he qualified as a recurrent requester at the time of the two FOIA requests at issue here. Looking back 52 weeks from Mr. Anderson’s FOIA request submitted on July 13, 2023, (2023 PAC 77350) yields a total of 43 FOIA requests. Similarly, Mr. Anderson’s FOIA request submitted on July 23, 2023 (2023 PAC 77529) yields 39 FOIA requests. Thus, Mr. Anderson did not meet the 50 request threshold in either instance.”
“Accordingly, the Public Access Bureau concludes that as of July 13, 2023, and July 23, 2023, respectively, the Township improperly designated Mr. Anderson as a “recurrent requester.” This office notes that the Township has acknowledged that Mr. Anderson no longer qualified as a recurrent requester as of August 2023. This office requests that the Township refrain from treating him as a “recurrent requester” unless he submits the requisite number of requests to qualify under the definition of that term in section 2(g) of FOIA.”77350 77529 PAC final determination