4 frequent FOIA-ers led to new city hire

Sammy Caiola

Repeated Freedom of Information Act requests filed by just four parties may have contributed to the planned hiring of a new deputy city clerk, who will earn $17,500 for a year of part-time work.

During the April 10 city council meeting, city clerk Rodney Greene presented a graph showing four anonymous requesters and the number of FOIA requests they had each filed in 2011 and 2012. The most frequent requester filed 18 FOIAs in that time period.

The Daily filed a FOIA request last week to acquire the names of the four frequent requesters. This list includes former 7th Ward aldermanic candidate Kevin O’Connor, real estate agent Joseph Lunini, Evanston resident Robert Huston, and Hupy and Abraham, a personal injury law firm with several locations in Illinois.

O’Connor, who identified himself as a community activist, said he has filed about 25 FOIAs in the past few years regarding everything from information about the deal to bring a Trader Joe’s deal to all of the Economic Development Committee’s expenditures under $20,000. He said he knows Evanston is in debt and is concerned about the way the city government is spending taxpayers’ money.

“We’re a bankrupt community,” he said. “What’s happened is, they’ve stopped putting that stuff on the agenda. I fought for like three weeks and I couldn’t get anything in response to a FOIA from the city. This is the kind of game you play in politics.”

Lunini’s FOIAs were filed, for the most part, during the snowstorm last year, when his car was towed for plowing and he received a ticket, he said. He wanted to know how many cars were ticketed during the storm because he thought the city was “trying to line their pockets with taxpayers’ money.”

The salary of the new deputy clerk will impose an cost of $17,500 on the city, but the additional help is necessary due in part to the FOIA increase, Greene said. He said the frequent requesters will continue to cause an increase in his staff’s workload.

“I do believe that the total will increase, because we do have repeat FOIAs coming in from three to four different requesters,” Greene said. “Because we are to be transparent, everyone is testing that transparency. They want to see exactly what they’re gonna get when they ask for it, how long it’s going to take to get them, and then if it’s not what they want, they will then repeat.”

Hupy and Abraham’s FOIAs were filed for commercial purposes, a common practice, and Huston could not be reached for comment.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) expressed concerns about the cost during the April 10 meeting but said she understands why it is necessary and is “supportive of the FOIA, both in practice and theory.”

“I have no interest in undermining the rights of citizens to exercise their rights under the FOIA laws,” she said. “But we all have to understand that it comes with a cost to the governmental bodies. And it’s just a cost that we need to accept. And part of that cost has implications for (the clerk’s) office.”

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