Aldermen approve resolution appointing additional FOIA officers, decreasing city clerk’s power


Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Mayor Steve Hagerty and city clerk Devon Reid. Reid and Hagerty clashed over Hagerty’s resolution to add three FOIA officers, essentially ridding Reid of his independent FOIA request powers.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen approved a resolution to appoint additional FOIA officers at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The resolution, proposed by Mayor Steve Hagerty, designates three additional officers to deal with Freedom of Information Act requests and responsibilities. Currently, the city clerk primarily handles FOIA responsibilities.

The resolution passed 5-3, with Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th) absent from the meeting. Alds. Robin Rue Simmons (5th), Ann Rainey (8th) and Cicely Fleming (9th) voted against the proposal.

Hagerty said he proposed the resolution based on the research he has done into the number of FOIA requests submitted since August 2018. According to a memo he sent to the council, FOIA requests have doubled in the past two years, and increasing the number of designated FOIA officers could help respond to that higher demand in a timely manner. Hagerty cited six other local municipalities that have between two and 11 FOIA officers.

“Given this pure data and increasing volume of FOIA requests, I believe it is in the city’s best interest to add three additional FOIA officers,” Hagerty said in the meeting. “There would be no additional cost to the city as two of these individuals are extensively involved in the current FOIA process and one was a former deputy city clerk who previously served as a FOIA officer.”

City clerk Devon Reid, however, argued that the problems with the current FOIA process is not a capacity issue. He questioned what issues the resolution attempts to solve. After city attorney Michelle Masoncup brought up data about FOIA requests held open past their close date limits, Reid said he keeps the requests open because the city is “not compliant with the FOIA statute,” and he is waiting for the city to “follow the law.”

Reid said the resolution is “inconsistent” with Evanston’s democratic values, and that he was not brought in to provide insight on how the FOIA process could be improved. He also said that the cities mentioned in Hagerty’s resolution did not have situations reflective of those in Evanston. Furthermore, he cited his lawsuit against the city regarding his access to information as a FOIA officer.

“Park Ridge, Glenview, Arlington Heights, DeKalb, Highland Park and Naperville – the municipalities cited in the mayor’s memo – are not analogous to Evanston,” Reid said. “The communities listed in the mayor’s memo lack Evanston’s diversity, socioeconomic issues and history. As the mayor’s proposal stands, it fails to achieve any of the goals it has set forth. The only outcome is that my lawsuit becomes moot, and the City of Evanston receives a rollback in public accountability and transparency.”

Fleming requested that the resolution be tabled until the lawsuit was determined in court, but Hagerty pushed for a vote.

While it is customary to propose resolutions like these in one council meeting then vote on it in a following one, this resolution moved through council in a single night, leading some residents to express concern about the rushed process.

Nineteen residents at the meeting voiced opposition to the resolution during public comment. Residents said there were several issues with the resolution, including the fact it was introduced before a holiday weekend and the resolution’s lack of transparency. Residents said it caused an increase of public distrust in the government.

“This process, when these things happen, reveals corruption, misconduct, fraud — it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable,” said Bobby Burns, a 7th Ward resident and former interim deputy city clerk. “I still, to this point, have not heard how this proposal makes Evanston better.”

After the resolution passed, people in the City Council chamber yelled “shame” toward the dais as Reid walked out of the chamber.

“Shame on this council,” Reid said before leaving. “Shame on all of you.”

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Officer in charge of FOIA requests sues Evanston over access to information