The Village of Oak Lawn’s decision to block email communication on its servers to prevent Freedom of Information Requests has resulted in another Attorney General Complaint against the Sandra Bury Administration.
According to Dennis Brennan, attorney for the Oak Lawn Leaf, the online news publication filed a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office against the Village noting that village officials have admitted that they intentionally and deliberately blocked any reporters or editors of the Oak Lawn Leaf from filing electronic Freedom of Information Requests.
The Illinois Freedom of Information Act states in part “… Written requests may be submitted to a public body via personal delivery, mail, telefax, or other means available to the public body…”
Despite the clear language of the statute and the statute’s overriding purpose to provide greater transparency in government, Village Manager Larry Deetjen admitted on Tuesday night that the village had blocked the email address of Brian Schaeflein, a reporter with the Oak Lawn Leaf, who had filed a Freedom of Information request for documents. Schaeflein’s email access to the village was apparently blacklisted after he wrote a story about the 911 Open House after attending the event.
On Tuesday night, Schaeflein took the unusual step of addressing the Village Board with the problem and was met with dismissiveness by Mayor Sandra Bury, who has inexplicably referred to the young reporter as a “spy”. Schaeflein is a writer’s union member and a staff member of the Oak Lawn Leaf.
In his public comments to the Mayor and Trustees, Schaeflein issued a warning that the Oak Lawn Leaf Co., which owns the Oak Lawn Leaf, would take legal action to force the village to unblock the email. The complaint to the Attorney General’s Office is the first step in the legal process according to Brennan. “We have statewide organizations that are jumping at the chance to take this case to court but we prefer to allow the Attorney General to take the appropriate action of contacting the Mayor and explaining the law”, said Brennan.
The Village of Oak Lawn has been under continuous scrutiny for failing to adhere to the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to release documents to residents, including Village Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3).
The now infamous list of complaints regarding 911 services that was eventually released after an Attorney General inquiry began is one of many documents that were initially hidden and then released after the Attorney General’s Office interceded.
The Oak Lawn Leaf would not be the first media entity or government watchdog to file a suit for access to records. The Chicago Tribune recently reported having to sue the College of DuPage for records and the Better Government Association (BGA) has often filed lawsuits for the release of records after entities refuse to comply with the transparency law.
Brennan said that entities failing to comply with the law are “wasting tax dollars” because the law requires the cost of a successful lawsuit to be reimbursed to the requester.