Lawsuit could change rules for FOIA

Property manager vs. city officials

DANVILLE, Ill. - DANVILLE -- A landlord won a lawsuit against the city after officials denied his request for information. He says he wanted to know what the Danville Housing Task Force was talking about during its meetings.

It's also information the attorney general says the city should have given him. The city's appealing the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, but they say it has little to do with whatever the task force was discussing.

As a property manager becomes more concerned the city isn't being transparent, officials are getting worried about what this ruling could do if it isn't overturned.

"We have an investment in the community and in the city of Danville. Whatever happens in the city affects all of us. I was wanting to have direction with where they were wanting to go, and I was wanting to have input on this."

Kevin Flynn owns hundreds of properties throughout Danville, and says it's in his best interest to know what the housing task force is up to. So he made a Freedom of Information Act request for its meeting documents, notes and emails.

"Within hours of me submitting it, I received a response that they were not going to provide the information to me," said Flynn.

The city claimed the task force wasn't a public body. Therefore, it didn't have to honor his request. Flynn sued and the attorney general's office ruled in his favor. But officials still didn't turn over the information, saying they were going to appeal the decision first.

"This was city business. It was conducted on city time, about a third of this task force were city employees, and they met in a city building. Why would somebody go to this length to fight something if they weren't trying to hide something?" said Flynn.

"I understand citizens' views of government. It's usually, probably not a good one. They always assume that we're hiding things from them or doing things from behind closed doors and that is certainly not the case, especially here in the city of Danville."

Dave Wesner is a city attorney and says there's a plot twist: The task force's information isn't the issue at all.

"We're not really trying to hide anything from Mr. Flynn or keep anything from him. We need to address the big issue created by the attorney general opinion," said Wesner.

That "big issue" is what the ruling could mean in the future, and not just for the city of Danville.

Wesner explains, "Anything on my desk here could be potentially released to anyone who wants it. The nature of that is, it doesn't matter how it comes to my desk, or where it comes from. Once it's on my desk, it becomes a public record."

He says that would make doing city business tough and compromise citizens' privacy. Flynn, on the other hand, says he just wants to be more informed about the city's housing situation.

"I don't know. I think all I can say is, why would you not want to give information, public information, to somebody?" said Flynn. 

Flynn says he was simply curious and wasn't looking for any particular information from the task force. But the city says they can't give it to him until the court case is closed.

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