Evanston residents urge city clerk to adjust FOIA process


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

City clerk Devon Reid speaks at a Tuesday Town Hall meeting. He proposed for his office to take jurisdiction over the FOIA redaction process.

Nikki Baim, Reporter

Citizens asked city clerk Devon Reid to ease the burden of filing a Freedom of Information Act request on Evanston’s online database at a Tuesday Town Hall meeting.

Reid — who was recently appointed Evanston’s FOIA officer — fielded concerns from roughly 15 community members about the city’s FOIA database. He proposed greater jurisdiction over the redaction process for his office. The database had publicly disclosed the names of juvenile offenders and sexual assault survivors.

Going forward, Reid said he would only release information about individual arrests to the requester, while requests made about general arrest statistics would be released publicly.

Some citizens said they did not see a need for the publication of requests, but Lesley Williams — a former Evanston Public Library librarian — argued that the public database is necessary. She said emails released from the library in a FOIA request revealed “very damaging things” that would not have otherwise been brought to the public’s attention.

“It makes a huge difference in terms of keeping government honest and providing information for the public,” Williams said.

Reid told The Daily that the public’s comments have encouraged him to take a second look at the way his office interacts with residents. He proposed moving the redaction process from the jurisdiction of the city’s Law Department to his office.

Marlon Millner, a Northwestern doctoral candidate in religious studies, said he thinks the government is being “unduly burdensome” by using complicated language in FOIA documents.

“It’s incumbent on those who are paid, are elected into the roles in which they serve, to create the ease of use and not expect the expertise and knowledge to be on the citizen,” he said.

One way the office plans to make FOIA requests more accessible is by changing the format of the documents. In his experience as a requester, Reid said he received many government documents in PDF files, which are hard to analyze. He added that in the future, his office would release documents in more user-friendly formats like Excel.

Since he took office six months ago, Reid said he has received about 100 FOIA requests per month.

“The number of FOIA requests since we implemented the NextRequest system has been on the increase,” he said. “I did notice that during the period we took the NextRequest system down to have a review of it, that we actually decreased the number of FOIAs that were coming in, so having a site that is easily accessible for folks actually increases the requests.”

Reid said he will publish his proposed FOIA policy by Thursday and plans to present the draft before City Council next week.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @nikkibaim22