Metra Must Provide Barbara Pagano Benefits Correspondence

Metra has adamantly refused to release information to McHenry County Blog regarding efforts to reimburse the taxpayers for the money that former Executive Director Phil Pagano took without authorization.

The text of page 1 of the Public Access Counselor's letter. Click to enlarge.

Text of page 2 of the Public Access Counselor's letter.

I’ve been trying to obtain such documents since September, 2010, and have been consistently stonewalled.

An open, transparent agency, Metra is not.

Now, the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor has ruled that all correspondent from or on behalf of Pagano’s wife Barbara must be released, except for a personal note to a Metra employee.

Fair enough.

The letter from Lisa Madigan’s Office follows (some new paragraphs have been created to make it easier to read on a screen):

OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
STATE OF ILLINOIS
Lisa Madigan
ATTORNEY GENERAL
March 9, 2011

Mr. Roman Gold
Freedom of Information Act Officer-Metra
[email protected]

RE: Pre- Authorization Request 2011 PAC-124877

Dear Mr. Gold:

We have received and reviewed the written notice from Metro of its intention to withhold certain information as exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(c) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq., as amended.

On February 8, 2011, Cal Skinner submitted a FOIA request to Metra, seeking copies of “all communication with or on behalf of Barbara Pagano. since [the death of] her husband.”

On February 18, 2011, Metra submitted a pre-authorization Request with the Office of the Public Access Counselor and asserted that the correspondence is exempt from disclosure under Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA (5 ILCS 140/7(1)(c) which 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.” The exemption defines ” [u]nwarranted invasion of personal privacy” as ” 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.” Id.

On March 4, 2011, Roman Gold, FOIA officer for Metra, supplied this Office with the documents that it seeks to withhold pursuant to Section 7( 1)( c).

Determination

Metra’ s request for approval of correspondence between Ms. Pagano and Metra is approved in part and denied in part.

In its letter to this Office, the Metra explains that the responsive documents do not relate to the public duties of any employee but rather relate to the benefits and rights conferred upon Ms. Pagano due to her status as a widow of a Metra employee.

Section 2. 5 of FOIA ( 5 ILCS 140/ 2.5) provides that “[ a] Il records relating to the obligation, receipt, and use of public funds of the State, units of local government, and school districts are public records subject to inspection and copying by the public.”

Information relating to publicly funded benefits that a public employee or a beneficiary of that employee receives clearly relates to the receipt, obligation and use of public funds. Our review of the correspondence between Metra and Ms. Pagano indicates that the documents in question pertain to certain benefits which
Metra funds and for which Ms. Pagano may be required to contribute to Metra.

Accordingly, the documents relate to the receipt and use of public funds, for purposes of Section 2. 5 of FOIA, and the disclosure of this information therefore would not constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of Mrs. Pagano’ s privacy.

Metra may, however, withhold a personal note written by Ms. Pagano to a Metra employee pursuant to Section 7(1)( c).

In summary, Metra has not met its initial burden of demonstrating that the correspondence and other records in question are exempt from disclosure pursuant to Section 7( 1)( c). (Emphasis added.)

Its request for approval to withhold those documents is therefore denied. Metra must disclose the documents (other than the personal note referenced above) to Mr. Skinner. Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at ( 312) 814- 5383. This correspondence shall serve to close this matter. (Emphasis added.)

Sincerely,

Matthew C. Rogina
Assistant Public Access Counselor


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