Group sues Ford-Iroquois agency over public records

PARIS, Ill. — The head of a watchdog group investigating the finances of the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department has filed a lawsuit, contesting the agency's denial of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Edgar County Circuit Court by John Kraft of Paris, Ill., who co-owns the nonprofit Edgar County Watchdogs' website with Kirk Allen of Kansas, Ill.

The group has filed several FOIA requests with the health department since starting its investigation into the department's finances in early February, Kraft and Allen said.

Kraft's lawsuit claims that a FOIA request he filed March 13 was improperly denied. His request sought a copy of the "current contract and complete compensation package" of the health department's FOIA officer and spokeswoman, Julie Clark.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the health department and Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett, acting in his official capacity as the agency's deputy FOIA officer.

Corbett responded to Kraft's request on March 14, according to the lawsuit, and stated that Clark had forwarded the request to him since it requested information regarding her employment.

A week later, Kraft received through the mail a "partial response" to his FOIA request; he then emailed Corbett, informing him that the documents provided did not completely satisfy the request.

Kraft again asked for Clark's "complete compensation package," which Corbett then denied. Corbett cited a clause in the Freedom of Information Act that restricts the public's access to "private information," the lawsuit says.

Kraft, meanwhile, says the privacy exemption in the law does not apply to the information he requested.

"The compensation package for any public employee is public record, and they're required to provide it," Kraft said in a phone interview Monday.

Kraft's lawsuit seeks to require the health department to provide the information that has been denied. It also seeks a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000, plus the payment of all costs incurred in filing the suit. A court date has not been set yet in Edgar County Circuit Court.

Corbett could not be reached for comment Monday.

Meanwhile, Ron Boyer, the health department's attorney, said he could not comment on the complaint because he has not seen a copy. However, Boyer did note that the complaint appears to have been filed in the incorrect county.

"The (Illinois Freedom of Information Act) says very clearly that he has to file it in the county of the public body, unless it's a state organization, which this is not," Boyer said Monday. "So he did it erroneously. He has to file it here (in Iroquois County)."

Allen said Monday he also plans to file a civil complaint later this week against the health department in connection with the denial of a separate FOIA request. Allen said he filed a FOIA request seeking copies of all grant applications of the health department in the past two years, all grants the agency received, and all grant compliance records for the last two years. The FOIA request also asked for a copy of all time cards or employee sign-in sheets for Clark.

The health department refused to provide the information, saying the request was "unduly burdensome" because the information requested was not in electronic form, Allen said.

Clark said at an Iroquois County Board meeting on March 12 that her agency has been bombarded with FOIA requests in recent weeks and has had to have three staff members work full time to respond to those requests.

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