Crime & Courts

Watchdog group alleges Freedom of Information Act violation against Algonquin Township

Watchdog group alleges violation against Algonquin Township

Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik and Supervisor Charles Lutzow attend an Algonquin Township Board meeting June 13 in Crystal Lake.
Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik and Supervisor Charles Lutzow attend an Algonquin Township Board meeting June 13 in Crystal Lake.

Algonquin Township has again been accused of violating the Freedom of Information Act, this time in reference to a June 2 request from the donation-driven group Edgar County Watchdogs.

In a civil complaint filed Friday in McHenry County court, the group’s attorney, Denise Ambroziak, accused Algonquin Township of failing to respond to Edgar County Watchdog founder John Kraft’s request for township communications with YouTube representatives.

On Wednesday, however, Algonquin Township Supervisor’s Office administrative assistant Pamela Gavers sent the Northwest Herald a copy of the municipality’s June 11 response to the FOIA, which stated that the township did not have any of the requested documents in its possession.

Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Kraft said that he’d overlooked the township’s response. Ambroziak now plans to file an amended complaint accusing the municipality of withholding nonexempt documents, she said.

“They improperly responded saying that there were no responsive documents, and yet we know for a fact that there are responsive documents,” Ambroziak said.

Under Kraft’s direction, a person who is not connected to Edgar County Watchdogs sent a similar request to the township, Kraft said.

Algonquin Township’s Jan. 18 response to that FOIA request included a letter from township attorney Jim Kelly, in which he asked YouTube to remove a video of Algonquin Township Clerk Karen Lukasik. Kraft provided a copy of the Jan. 18 FOIA response to the Northwest Herald, but Kelly could not immediately be reached to confirm its validity.

The current draft of the lawsuit seeks a declaration that Algonquin Township violated FOIA law and seeks to have the township pay civil penalties as well as Kraft’s attorney’s fees and costs.

Although Kelly and Algonquin Township Supervisor Charles Lutzow are aware of the lawsuit, they haven’t looked at it in detail, since they haven’t yet been served with it, they said.

It’s not the first time the township has faced a lawsuit of this kind. Township officials currently are in litigation with Ambroziak regarding separate allegations of failing to respond to more than 16 FOIA requests. Lutzow has said Algonquin Township received more than 90 FOIA requests from numerous parties between the time he took office in May 2018 and the filing of a 2018 FOIA lawsuit.

The Algonquin Township Highway Department’s attorney, Robert Hanlon, previously negotiated a settlement deal to pay the Edgar County Watchdogs $40,000 to take the road district out of the lawsuit. The settlement increased at a rate of $5,000 a month until it was paid in full at $55,000 in January.

The township continues to fight allegations that Lukasik did not comply with records requests on multiple occasions. 

Ambroziak declined to say whether the parties were in talks of settling in the most recent suit.

The information sought in the most recent lawsuit stems from a 15-minute video that Edgar County Watchdogs posted to YouTube on Jan. 15, 2018. The video shows Lukasik and a friend thumbing through records after hours in Lutzow’s office. It also shows the clerk taking pictures of certain records, including the salary of Lutzow’s former chief of staff, Ryan Provenzano.

The Northwest Herald also obtained a copy of the video and posted it online with an article reporting that one township trustee wanted the clerk to step down.

Lukasik, who has said she did nothing wrong, claimed the footage came from a hidden Nest security camera, that was placed in a bookshelf inside Lutzow’s office.

The video likely was recorded in June, shortly after the clerk took office, Lukasik has said.

She has since stepped down as the township’s FOIA officer.

On March 16, 2018, Kelly sent YouTube’s legal support a letter seeking to have the video taken down. In the letter, Kelly claimed the video was “unlawfully removed from the township and turned over to a third party,” possibly in violation of privacy rights.

The video remained on YouTube as of Wednesday afternoon.

Reached by phone, Lukasik said that the township now uses an online system to receive FOIA requests.

The public isn’t required to use the system, however, and occasionally, requests still come in via email. In those instances, the recipient of the email generally will forward the request to the township’s existing FOIA officers, including Kelly, Lukasik said.

The case is scheduled to go before a judge Aug. 1.

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