Caledonia increases FOIA prices

Caledonia Village Board voted unanimously March 20 to raise the price of copies for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from 15 cents to $1 per page.

Former Caledonia Village Board member Lisa Rodgers, who has submitted a number of FOIA requests in recent months, alleged: “The reason to up the price is not because of any other reason except we’re going to try to deter the public from asking further questions. In my opinion, the only reason you would want to increase the price is not because there is a cost issue. It’s being done now as a deterrent.”

Rodgers’ proposal to host a “Meet the Candidates” forum prior to the April 17 elections was also unanimously rejected by the Caledonia Board at the March 20 meeting.

Caledonia Village President Susan Siek said the village has been inundated with FOIA requests from members of the community and the press.

Trustee Jack Nicholson said, “I think that we should raise that to a dollar and slow some of these FOIA requests down.”

Village Trustee Kraig Bryan asked, “You charge ’em for the copies, but who’s compensating her for her time?”

Siek noted trips to copying facilities, travel time and gas costs are a burden on Village Clerk and Treasurer Sue Yakey.

Village Attorney Aaron Szeto told board members: “You can charge for the actual cost of copying; your paper, your ink. You can’t charge for labor.”

Bryan then suggested figuring the cost of labor into the price of copies, while not specifically calling it a labor charge.

During public participation, Doris Nelson said: “The law says the public must make a standard fee, not to be excessive, only to cover the copying cost. A public body is not permitted by the Act to charge for time being spent finding and reviewing requested documents.”

Referring to her most recent FOIA requests, Rodgers indicated: “My major concern right now is the amount of money that they have paid to the attorney [Nicolosi & Associates of Rockford] since they became the village legal counsel. We’ve given him basically the village and the kitchen sink, but we still don’t have a building where we can have a meeting.”

The Village of Caledonia’s Annual Treasurer’s Report for fiscal year 2005 indicated Nicolosi & Associates was paid $101,614 for services after taking over for Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen as village counsel in the spring of that year.

Caledonia’s total revenues in 2005 were $220,582, according to the same report.

Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen received $9,434 for about four months of legal services in 2005, prior to Nicolosi & Associates’ representation of the village.

Caledonia’s 2005 levy ordinance anticipated only $10,000 to be spent on legal expenses.

Illinois statutes indicate appropriation ordinances serve as limits as to what may be spent during the year. These appropriations are typically inflated to cover unforeseen expenses.

There is no evidence of an appropriation ordinance having been adopted in Caledonia for 2005, and Boone County Clerk Pamela McCullough said no budget had been filed with the Clerk’s Office for fiscal year 2005.

The 2006 Illinois Municipal Handbook indicates, “If a municipality fails to file either its appropriation ordinance or budget or the estimate of revenues as required, the County Clerk is authorized to refuse to extend the municipality’s tax levy until the required documents are filed.”

Although the village stayed within its $181,300 total anticipated expenditures presented in the levy ordinance for the year, legal services in excess of the allotted $10,000 were paid by funds allocated for other programs.

The Annual Appropriation Ordinance (AAO) for fiscal year 2006, however, set aside $45,000 for legal services, less than half of the village’s $105,480 total appropriation.

Rodgers said she wants to know how much Nicolosi & Associates was actually paid by the village in 2005 and 2006, and has submitted FOIA requests seeking that information.

According to documents obtained by The Rock River Times, Nicolosi & Associates received $270,684.99 from developers between July 1, 2005, and Nov. 27, 2006, for work related to the Caledonia Crossings annexation agreement.

Meanwhile, local engineering firm McMahon Associates, Inc., is still waiting for a $30,000 past-due payment related to the same project. The Village Board contends developers Centex Homes and Bassett Management Services, Inc., who pulled out of the project late last year, are liable.

For 2007, only $8,000 has been appropriated for legal services. The board voted to draft past-due letters to Centex and Bassett, without the aid of the village attorney.

In December 2006, Village of Roscoe President Ward Sterett announced the village had terminated the services of Nicolosi & Associates because of a conflict of interest. Nicolosi & Associates represents Rockton, Loves Park and Caledonia, and in partnership with Chicago-based urban planning firm Camiros, Ltd., has obtained the $335,000 contract with Winnebago County for its Land Use Plan and rewrite of zoning ordinances.

Paul Nicolosi alleged his firm resigned not because of a conflict of interest, but because Roscoe Village Attorney David Kurlinkus was leaving the firm to start his own practice.

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!