Settlement talks in lawsuits over public records

Settlement talks in lawsuits over public records

WATSEKA — Settlement negotiations are ongoing in a pair of lawsuits filed by a watchdog group against the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department over the alleged improper denial of requests for public records.

The Edgar County Watchdogs — headed by Kirk Allen of Kansas, Ill., and John Kraft of Paris, Ill. — filed two lawsuits in Iroquois County Circuit Court this spring. They did not appear in court for a hearing Thursday.

Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine, who also serves as the health department's legal counsel, sent an email to Allen and Kraft after the hearing, that he had informed Judge Ronald J. Gerts on Thursday that "an agreement to continue these cases and that settlement negotiations are ongoing."

Devine's email was obtained by the Paxton Record from Allen and Kraft. Devine did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

Gerts continued the cases to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19.

In attendance in court were Public Health Administrator and deputy FOIA officer Doug Corbett, along with the health department's financial/support services coordinator, Cary Hagen, and FOIA officer Julie Clark, Devine said.

Devine said in his email that he told Corbett after the hearing to place the "settlement offers of both cases" on the agenda for discussion at the next scheduled meeting of the Ford-Iroquois Board of Health on Sept. 16. If the board ends up meeting earlier than that, Devine said, he would contact Dr. Kevin Brucker, the board's chairman, to place the cases on the agenda of that meeting.

Allen and Kraft, who own and operate the nonprofit Edgar County Watchdogs website, filed the lawsuits after being denied information they had requested through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. They alleged their requests were improperly denied and that the health department failed to respond within the required timeframe. Each lawsuit seeks a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000, plus the payment of costs incurred in filing the lawsuit.