Agency seeks more time to respond to records request
WATSEKA — The Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department is asking an Iroquois County judge to allow more time to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request that it originally denied, prompting the requestor to file a lawsuit against the agency.
Meanwhile, the Kansas, Ill., man who filed the FOIA request and is suing the health department — Kirk Allen — says the agency has already had enough time to respond.
Allen, who co-owns the nonprofit Edgar County Watchdogs' website with John Kraft of Paris, Ill., filed a motion Monday in Iroquois County Circuit Court asking the court to declare that the health department is in violation of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for failing to properly deny his request and for failing to respond within the required time frame. The motion seeks a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000, plus the payment of costs incurred in filing the lawsuit.
A hearing to consider Allen's motion is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine, who is representing the health department, filed an answer to Allen's motion Wednesday, saying additional time is required to respond to the FOIA request.
Devine cited a clause in the act that allows extensions when "the request requires the collection of a substantial number of specified records" and "the request for records cannot be complied with by the public body within the time limits prescribed ... without unduly burdening or interfering with the operations of the public body."
Devine also asked in his answer that proof be provided of the "irreparable harm" alleged in Allen's lawsuit due to the denial of information sought. Devine asked the court to deny the awarding of civil penalties to Allen.
Kraft has also filed suit against the health department over the denial of a FOIA request. Like Allen, Kraft has filed a motion for summary judgment, with the same penalties sought as Allen. Kraft's motion will be considered Monday, as well.
Allen, in his lawsuit, said he filed a FOIA request on March 18 seeking copies of all grant applications submitted by the health department to any agency 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 Julie Clark, the agency's spokesman and FOIA officer.
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.
"I filed my complaint based on the fact the public body failed to allow the narrowing of my request, which is required prior to making a claim of unduly burdensome," Allen wrote in an affidavit filed Monday.
Kraft, meanwhile, claims that a FOIA request he filed March 13 was improperly denied. His FOIA request sought a copy of the "current contract and complete compensation package" for Clark. Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett, who also is the agency's deputy FOIA officer, 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.
Kraft said in an affidavit that he did receive the requested records on April 4 — six days after filing his lawsuit — which, he said, indicates the health department acknowledges that the original request was "improperly denied."