Northern Star Fighting for 3rd Ward Names

The Northern Star has submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain the names of the persons considered by the mayor for the vacated Third Ward alderman spot.

With the questionable past of the 3rd Ward, it is interesting to see that the city has decided to withhold this information from the public, since an aldermanic position is in fact a public position. On Jan. 25, DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen appointed Pam Verbic, a long-time 3rd Ward resident, to the position that had been vacant since Victor Wogen resigned on Dec. 14, 2009. Congratulations to Mrs. Verbic.

The Star, however, is still wondering why the other nine applicants have not been announced, since it is a public position.

The Northern Star filed a Freedom of Information request for the names of the 10 applicants, and, in a letter addressed to the Northern Star, DeKalb City Clerk Steve Kapitan said “City Attorney Norma Guess asserts that this request [for the 10 names] be denied because it constitutes a clear unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Let’s take a look at FOIA.

First, here is the applicable privacy exemption:

Personal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, unless the disclosure is consented to in writing by the individual subjects of the information. “Unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” means the disclosure of information that is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.

Here is the definition of private information:

“Private information” means unique identifiers, including a person’s social security number, driver’s license number, employee identification number, biometric identifiers, personal financial information, passwords or other access codes, medical records, home or personal telephone numbers, and personal email addresses. Private information also includes home address and personal license plates, except as otherwise provided by law or when compiled without possibility of attribution to any person.

I believe the City of DeKalb is not claiming a privacy exemption but a nonexistent anonymity exemption. This might have worked back when the city manager dealt with FOIA appeals, but the game has changed.

And for the “Oh, the irony!” category:

  • The mayor could have quietly talked to a couple people, then asked the city manager to put his choice on the agenda for appointment as is done routinely for committee/commission/board appointments. Nobody would be asking for names in that case. By bragging that so many people were involved in the selection process, he in effect created an unnecessary public record.

  • This charade of a transparent selection process actually resulted in less information being provided the public than for most mayoral appointments. When I was appointed to a city commission under Mayor Van Buer, I had to submit my resumé for consideration by Council before the vote. It was included in an agenda packet without redactions. You have access to much more personal information about an appointee to the Enviro Commission than you do for the new alderman. Yeah, that makes sense. :-/

  • Question: Did the mayor’s consensus-building via telephone with each alderman constitute violations of the Open Meetings Act? Why or why not?