Following last week’s Special Meeting on November 18th, the Leaf made two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests of the Village. The meeting’s agenda consisted of a budget “workshop” where the Board discussed next year’s Village budget.
The first FOIA request was for a copy of the audio recording of the meeting. As prescribed by state law, every meeting must be recorded.
The second FOIA request was for emails related to the meeting. During the meeting, Deetjen presented a printed email to the Board. The undated email was addressed to Trustee Robert Streit (District 3), Mayor Sandra Bury, and Finance Director Brian Hanigan. The email’s subject was “request for answers to questions sent to VM after deadline request for budget workshop”.
According to Streit, Deetjen claimed to have sent the email weeks ago, but that printout was the first time Streit had seen the email. Streit stated that he had reviewed all of his email communications with the Village Manager, but that email was not among them.
The email as presented by Deetjen was a list of answers to budget questions submitted by Streit. According to Streit, “At the first budget meeting on October 14th, the Mayor, Village Manager, Budget Director, and other Trustees engaged in a heated back and forth. In order to avoid that sort of confrontation occurring again, the Village Manager asked everyone for any budget-related questions. So I asked residents if they had any questions. About 10 days later, 4 days before the next budget meeting, I submitted those questions to the Village Manager.”
Streit says that Deetjen acknowledged receipt and assured him that he would get the residents answers for the next meeting, on October 28th. “But they didn’t address all of the questions at that meeting, and they made confusing statements about many they did address.” So, on October 30th, Streit requested written answers to the budget questions.
Prior to the November 18th Special Meeting, Streit made a post to the website for his political committee, Friends of Bob Streit, asking for any further questions that the residents may have. He also stated that he was hopeful that the Village Manager would answer the questions previously submitted.
“The first time I saw those written answers was when the Village Manager passed them out to the Board at the Special Meeting, weeks after I submitted them,” Streit said. “I was surprised when Larry presented this email and rebuked me for making public remarks about how he still hadn’t provided answers, that it was somehow my fault that I hadn’t read this email that he passed out to the Board. I never received that email.”
In order to confirm the veracity of the Village Manager’s email, the Leaf requested any emails that the Village Manager sent to Streit, Bury, or Hanigan–who were all listed as recipients to Deetjen’s email–over the past month regarding the budget workshop. The request was sent on November 19th.
On November 20th, Deetjen penned his weekly Trustee Information Letter (TIL). Deetjen often uses the TIL as his own personal bully pulpit, often expressing his political bent in a disorganized jumble of barely relevant attachments, which he believes is private and privileged. This stands in stark contrast to chief administrators in other communities, whose information letters are professional, well-organized, informational, and made easily available to the public since they are public documents.
The final item in the most recent letter raises further questions about this situation. From the TIL on November 20, 2015:
FOIA REQUEST FROM TRUSTEE STREIT — Please find enclosed a FOIA request from Trustee Streit following Wednesday’s budget workshop. The request is broad in nature and will generate a large paper trail and we will do our best to gather the information for review and redactions if necessary by legal counsel as we do for every request.
The only FOIA requests enclosed with the TIL were copies of the two FOIA requests made by this reporter. According to the official Village record of FOIA requests, Streit made no requests about this meeting. The submitted requests can be viewed on the Village website.
Deetjen’s assertion that the requests were “broad in nature” is dubious, at best. The requests made were very specific. The request for the audio recording is very straightforward. The request for emails is limited to a specific time period, to a specific sender, to specific recipients, about a specific subject.
There is also the question of whether or not legal counsel should be involved at all in routine FOIA requests. According to Deetjen, the Village Attorney is involved in every request. In the past, Deetjen has stated that the cost of FOIA requests is doubled due to the Attorney’s involvement. Mayor Bury often remarks at the Board Meetings that Trustee Streit’s FOIA requests cost the Village an unspecified but large amount of money.
The Village website lists at least 11 FOIA Officers on staff. These Officers should be capable of handling routine requests without input from legal counsel. That is supposed to be part of their training. So why is legal counsel billing its services on this matter?
Similarly, Deetjen’s claim that the request will “generate a large paper trail” is also dubious. If every request goes through the same process of review, then the paper trail will be no more or less sizable than any other.
There is one possible exception, though. If the email never existed, that would certainly necessitate a paper trail be generated. What happens if the emails are reviewed and the email that the Village Manager presented to the Board at the Special Meeting doesn’t actually exist? Who would be responsible for generating that paper trail?
The Village has asked for an extension of an additional 9 days to answer the request for emails.