The Village of Oak Lawn’s failure to abide by the Illinois Local Records Act by destroying records has allowed them to avoid providing records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, according to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office although Village officials may be liable under the Local Records Act.
The dispute over the records began when Trustee Robert Streit (Dist. 3) requested any records of complaints regarding 911, a 911 dispatch tape and a video of the 911 operations room during a 911 call. First the Village Clerk’s Office answered stating that there weren’t any complaints. The records were later “found” and turned over.
However, Streit’s request for a copy of the 911 dispatch tape for a fatal accident on 95th Street was denied. The Clerk’s office denied the request claiming there was an ongoing criminal investigation in the matter even though the offender had died at the scene. The Illinois Attorney General intervened and Clerk Jane Quinlan relented and provided the records. The 911 tape indicated that the dispatchers failed to provide an ambulance for seven minutes after the first call, according to an analysis done by the Oak Lawn Leaf.
Despite the Attorney General’s intervention, the video and audio tapes of the events that day at the 911 Emergency Dispatch Center were not released. Then surprisingly, the Village Clerk’s Office claimed that the records had been automatically destroyed after thirty days and were therefore not available.
At the time, Streit commented on the delay. “What the letter (from the village) tells us is that the village unilaterally destroyed the records while a Freedom of Information Request was pending,” said a disgusted Streit.
Recently, the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Officer admitted that its office did not have any power under the Freedom of Information Act to take further action against the Village for destroying the records:
“On May 14, 2015, ….”confirmed that the above-captioned matters may now be closed because the requested records no longer exist. Accordingly, this office will take no further action with respect to these Requests for Review.”
After a year of multiple investigations by the Illinois Attorney General over Oak Lawn’s failure to provide records pursuant to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, Trustee Robert Streit (District 3) expressed frustration with a village administration that has “ignored the law as it is written.”
While the Village may have avoided liability under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, it may have violated the Illinois Local Records Act in doing so. That statute states:
“All public records made or received by, or under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control, or possession of any officer or agency shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part, except as provided by law. Any person who knowingly, without lawful authority and with the intent to defraud any party, public officer, or entity, alters, destroys, defaces, removes, or conceals any public record commits a Class 4 felony.”