Mrs Whitaker stated she has never heard of a law like that however approximately 10 years ago there was a letter sent to her from the State Attorney Generals Office that is as follows:
Dear Mayor Hagnauer and Clerk Whitaker:
I write regarding a request for assistance that our office has received related to the City of Granite City and its compliance with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, 5 ILCS 140/1 et seq. Mr. Jeremy Lindsey recently submitted material to our office indicating that the City is not complying with various requirements of the Act The material we received indicates that Mr. Lindsey requested from the City a list of all types or categories of records available for inspection and, in response to that request, the City demanded that Mr. Lindsey specify the particular category or records he was seeking. Mr. Lindsey was also informed that he would have to submit a FOIA request for such a list and that the City would have 14 days to respond to that request. Additionally, Mr. Lindsey has asserted that the City fails to accept his requests, submitted on City forms, unless he includes an explanation of the purpose for his request and that the City has asserted that it need not respond to his Freedom of Information Act requests unless he verifies he is a resident of the City.
Under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, “[e]ach public body [must] make available to any person for inspection or copying all public records, except as otherwise provided.” 5 ILCS 140/3(a). There is no basis under the Act for asserting that a requestor must be a resident of the public body in order to have access to the records of the body. Further, the Act does not permit a public body to distinguish among requestors based on the purpose of a request. As the Illinois Supreme Court has stated, the Act “does not require that the persons requesting the information explain their need for that information or their planned use of that information.” Family Life League v. Dept. of Public Aid, 112 Ill. 2d 449, 456 (1986). Nothing in the Act permits a public body to deny a Freedom of Information Act request based on a requestor’s intended use of the requested records or based on a requestor’s failure to explain the purpose of the request. As such, the City is obligated to respond to Mr. Lindsey’s requests for records, regardless of his status as a resident of the City or his refusal to explain the reasons for his request.
The Act requires that “[e]ach public body shall, promptly, either comply with or deny a written request for public records within 7 working days after its receipt” and further requires that “[d]enial shall be by letter.” 5 ILCS 140/3(c). While the Act does allow a public body to extend the time for response to a request up to an additional 7 working days, the public body may only invoke such extension under the limited circumstances laid out in the statute. In order to properly extend the time for response, not only must one of the statutory reasons apply, but the public body must also “notify by letter the person making the written request within the [original 7 working day time period] of the reasons for the delay and the date by which the records will be made available.” 5 ILCS 140/3(e). The Attorney General’s Office wishes to take this opportunity to remind the City of its obligation to respond to all requests for public records promptly and in accordance with all of the requirements of the Act.
Additionally, the Freedom of Information Act expressly requires that “[a]s to public records prepared or received after the effective date of [the] Act, each public body shall maintain and make available for inspection and copying a reasonably current list of all types or categories of records under its control.” 5 ILCS 140/5. The purpose of this requirement is to aid requestors in making requests under the Act to the public body. To the extent that the City does not currently maintain such a list, it is required under the Act to create one and to make it available to Mr. Lindsey and any other requestor as soon as possible.
We ask that the City immediately respond to any pending Freedom of Information Act requests from Mr. Lindsey in accordance with all of the requirements of the Act. The City may also wish to take advantage of the resources available on our website (www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov), including a detailed guide to the Freedom of Information Act, in order to further familiarize itself with the requirements of the Act. If you have any questions about these or other Freedom of Information Act issues, please feel free to contact us.
Heather V. Kimmons
Assistant Public Access Counselor
Assistant Attorney General