AG closes FOIA loophole used against D-300 moms
The trick that the Village of Hoffman Estates used to delay responding to the FOIAs of four District 300 mothers is no more, courtesy of Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office.
As I blogged Dec. 29, the ladies sent a total of 10 Freedom of Information Act requests, all dated Sept. 16, regarding the Sears EDA agreement up for renewal by the General Assembly. Because of the FOIA requests' similar nature, the village treated them as being sent by one person, which allowed them to label them as coming from a single "recurrent requester."
Under the FOIA loophole that took effect last August, a government can respond to a "recurrent requester" in 21 days rather than five. The law defines "recurrent requester" as a person who makes 50 requests in a year, 15 requests in a month or seven requests in a week.
But a binding opinion released by Madigan's office over an unrelated incident prevents Illinois governments from here on out of bundling similar FOIAs together.
In this case, the village of Smithfield in downstate Illinois treated FOIA requests from a husband and wife as being from a single requester. Because the wife had filed 10 over the past 12-month period, and the husband had filed three of his own (and they filed one together), the village lumped them together to make them one single recurrent requester and put off the wife's Sept. 14 request.
Madigan ruled in the husband and wife's favor (you can read the opinion here), not only because they had not even come close to the 50 FOIA requests in a year to be labeled as recurrent requesters, but also because the village erred in lumping the two people together to count their separate requests jointly.
This opinion, had it been on the books earlier, would have required Hoffman Estates to respond to all four District 300 women in five business days. One filed four FOIA requests, with the remaining women filing three, two and one, respectively, so they would not have met the statutory limit of seven limits in seven days to be labeled as recurrent requesters.
Would it have helped the school district, which mobilized to fight for a fairer shake in the Sears deal, to have gotten what they asked for before the General Assembly deliberated and voted on extending the EDA? I don't know. But it certainly wouldn't have hurt.
I'll wrap up this post with one sad commentary. The "recurrent requesters" loophole took effect Aug. 26. It took two Illinois governments – and quite likely more that we don't know about – three weeks to figure out how to improperly stretch it to deny information.
It's very disappointing. But then again, it's what a lot of us have come to expect from Illinois and its 7,000 units of government.
(Hat tip to @jonathanderson on Twitter for giving me the heads-up on the ruling).
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.