It is so delightful to have some referee other than circuit court for Freedom of Information request appeals.
I never appealed to circuit court. I figure I’ve spent enough time in McHenry County courtrooms to last a life time during my divorce proceedings. I spent every vacation and personal day for a couple of years there. So much so that I started calling it the “McHenry County Courthouse and Spa.”
Now, a simple email to the Public Access Attorney of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office gets an answer.
The most recent denied request I have appealed concerned Crystal Lake High School District 155’s refusal to provide the names of people currently on leaves of absence and the dates those leaves began.
Amalia Rioja, Chief Deputy Public Access Counselor wrote the following “Determination” April 26th,
“Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA exempts from inspection and copying “[p]ersonal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information.” 5 ILCS 140/7(1)(c).
“The exemption defines “[u]nwarranted invasion of personal privacy” as “the disclosure of information that is highly personaly or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.” Id. The disclosure of information that bears upon the duties of public employees, however, “shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.” Id.
“The School District’s use of the Section 7(1)(c) exemption with regard to the names of faculty members who are currently on leaves of absence and the dates said leaves began is denied.” (Emphasis in the original.)
“We have determined that the names of public employees who are on a leave of absence and the dates that said leaves of absence began bears on the their public duties and the disclosure of this information would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. Whether a public employee is currently working or on a leave of absence is information, to which the public has a right to know. Moreover, even if an employee had a right to privacy with regard to this type of information, any such right is outweighed by the public’s legitimate interest in obtaining this information.” (Emphasis in the original.)
“Accordingly, the School District should provide Mr. Skinner with the names of faculty members currently on leaves of absence and the dates upon which any such leaves commenced.”
When the Northwest Herald started running articles about money being missing from some account at South High School, I tried to think of how I might be able to verify some of the elements of the story.
I got a statement from the Crystal Lake Police Department on April 9th.
I sought and received through a Freedom of Information request the email that was sent out to employees (turns out on the night of April 7th.) It was provided and you can see it below:
From: Jill Hawk
Sent: Wednesday, April 07, 2010 835 PM
To: D155-AII Email Recipients
There is likely to be media coverage in the next few days of an incident relating to the management of funds by a staff member at one of our high schools.
At this time, we are not able to share details with you or the public as this is a confidential personnel issue. The situation is still evolving as we investigate.
However, I am mindful that many members of our D155 family will be impacted by what will be brought forward. I know your professionalism will serve the district well as rumors and speculation abound.
I have confidence that we will we work through this together.
Sincere [That’s how my copy ends.]
Here is the denial of my leave of absence request from District 155 Freedom of Information Officer Scott Puma to my April 9th request for leave of absence information:
Mr. Cal Skinner
275 Meridian St.
Crystal Lake, IL 60014
Response to FOIA Request -Community High School District 155
Dear Mr. Skinner:
This letter is in response to your Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request for Community High School District 155’s (“District”) public statement on the possible theft of money from Crystal Lake South High School and names of any faculty members who are currently on leave of absence and the date(s) such leave(s) of absence began. Your request was received on April 8, 2010, by the District, and is granted in part and it is the District’s intention to deny the request in part as follows.
Your request for the public statement on the possible theft of money from Crystal Lake South High School is granted and included here.
The District intends to deny your request for “the names of any faculty members who are currently on leave of absence and the date(s) such leave(s) of absence began:’ FOIA Section 7(1 )(c) exempts the following:
personal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless the disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information. “Unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” means the disclosure of information that is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information. The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.
Here, I believe that the disclosure of the requested information concerning employees’ leaves of absence would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of the employees’ personal privacy within the above definition.
Leaves of absence are highly personal events (which do not necessarily involve an expenditure of public funds since many leaves of absence are unpaid) and their disclosure would be objectionable to a reasonable person.
Moreover, the District’s employees have not consented to the disclosure of such information. Finally, though I acknowledge that the public may have a legitimate interest in this information, I believe this interest is outweighed by the employees’ rights to privacy.
For these reasons, I intend to deny a portion of your request under Section 7( 1)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act. Pursuant to Section 9.5(b) of FOIA, I will forward this letter to the Public Access Counselor for her review, for a determination whether any further inquiry is warranted, and for a determination whether the records you have requested are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 7(1 )(c).
Please be aware that our response to your request is pursuant to our understanding of your FOIA request. If we have misunderstood your request, please let us know as soon as possible so we may provide the correct information.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.