Watchdog barks as Caledonia puts the bite on FOIA requests

Responding to an article in the March 28, 2007, issue of The Rock River Times, a civic group has sent a letter to Caledonia Village President Susan Siek, expressing concerns about a recent board decision.

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

Susanna Stone, a community lawyer for the Citizen Advocacy Center (CAC) explained, “It was more of just a letter kind of informing them that, ‘In case you don’t know, the dollar per page FOIA fee is not a wise decision.’”

Stone argued the dollar-a-page fee is neither fair nor reasonable.

In her letter to Siek, Stone wrote, “The purpose of the Act is to provide the public with access to public documents in order to ‘enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.’”

Caledonia has been inundated with FOIA requests in recent months, thus prompting board discussion.

“I think that we should raise that to a dollar and slow some of these FOIA requests down,” Trustee Jack Nicholson said at the March 20 Village Board meeting.

Trustee Kraig Bryan argued expenses incurred by Village Clerk and Treasurer Sue Yakey’s fulfillment of requests should be included in the price of copies.

“You charge ’em for the copies, but who’s compensating her for her time?” Bryan argued.

State law indicates, “Such fees shall exclude the costs of any search for and review of the record, and shall not exceed the actual cost of reproduction and certification, unless otherwise provided by State statute.” 5 ILCS 140/6(a)

In the April 3 letter, Stone warned Siek, “Excessive charges for FOIA requests will only open the Village to potential litigation, which would be a much larger financial burden for the Village than would the costs related to charging fees that are permissible under the FOIA statute.”

Furthermore, if the requested information is arguably in the public interest, documents should be furnished free or at a reduced charge.

Stone summarized simply, “The Act does not support the dollar-per-page charge for copies related to FOIA requests.”

As an alternative to higher prices for copies, Stone suggested reproducing documents electronically to be made available at no cost on a village web site, which Caledonia does not currently have. In lieu of the web site, electronic copies of documents could still be e-mailed or placed on disk at little or no cost.

The CAC has offered to conduct informational sessions in Caledonia to educate officials and the public issues related to the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts.

As of April 9, Stone said the CAC had not yet received a response.

The phone number for the Caledonia village offices has been disconnected, making it exceedingly difficult to contact President Siek. However, The Rock River Times e-mailed the Village of Caledonia April 7 in an attempt to reach Siek for comment. As of publication, no response has been received.

The CAC is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Elmhurst.

from the April 11-17, 2007, issue

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