Hagerty moves to restrict FOIA powers currently held by city clerk

City+clerk+Devon+Reid.+Aldermen+will+discuss+splitting+up+Reid%E2%80%99s+FOIA+responsibilities+at+Tuesday%E2%80%99s+city+council.+

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

City clerk Devon Reid. Aldermen will discuss splitting up Reid’s FOIA responsibilities at Tuesday’s city council.

Julia Esparza, City Editor

Aldermen are considering a proposal that would strip the city clerk of his powers relating to public records requests, setting up a power struggle between the city’s elected officials.

Aldermen will discuss a proposal by Mayor Steve Hagerty to split up responsibilities granted under the Freedom of Information Act, which all currently fall under the city clerk’s office. The measure, to be considered by aldermen at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, would split the role between four officers, effectively depriving city clerk Devon Reid of his independent power related to FOIA requests.

The proposal comes about two weeks after Reid filed a suit against the city to determine his rights as a FOIA officer. In the suit, he claims he has been denied access to unedited information requested by the public. Reid is currently the sole FOIA officer for the city.

The measure would weaken Reid’s power as the FOIA officer, a responsibility he assumed after being elected city clerk — first unofficially, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, who had been named the city’s FOIA officer.

In October 2017, aldermen voted to officially designate the city clerk as Evanston’s FOIA officer. Since then, Reid has clashed with city officials on numerous occasions.

Aldermen voted in 2017 to discontinue an online system Reid had used to publish all FOIA requests. They expressed concerns that the published documents revealed too much private and sensitive information.

But Reid says he’s been “diligent” about protecting people’s privacy, and argues the system, NextRequest, is necessary to increase government transparency and trust with residents.

Under the structure Hagerty suggests, FOIA requests for police department records would go through an Evanston Police Department records manager and requests involving Law Department records would be processed through the assistant city attorney. All other FOIA requests would go through the city clerk with a customer service representative from the city assisting “if necessary.”

Reid said he’s been getting redacted video from the police department, instead of the unedited footage. As FOIA officer, Reid says he should make the decisions over what to redact, but Hagerty said in an interview earlier this month that only police officers should see the full footage.

“The way the state law is written, our belief is that the only person that sees this is the person putting it together from the police department, and the person requesting it, no one else,” Hagerty said.

A petition began circulating Saturday among residents that asked City Council to keep all FOIA responsibilities in the city clerk’s office. Over 200 people have signed the petition as of Monday night.

“The proposed change will put information that could potentially reveal unethical/illegal activity by city staff or elected officials, under the authority of an individual who either reports to elected officials or directly to the city manager,” the petition states.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @juliaesparza10

Related Stories:
Officer in charge of FOIA requests sues Evanston over access to information
Evanston residents urge city clerk to adjust FOIA process

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