City of DeKalb Has Nothing Better to Do Than Play Games with FOIA

Last week I shared with you my observations of the June 11 meeting between the council and the city’s financial consultants. One thing I noted, but hadn’t taken action on, was this:

Some of the recommendations in the report were apparently redacted. (See PDF pp. 108 and 110.) This is inappropriate for a public record unless an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act is claimed.

Well, guess what? A reader picked up on the issue, and requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) the blacked-out items. Here’s the wording of the specific request:

I am requesting a Listing of Items (recommendations and $ Impact) redacted on the 2013 DeKalb EPI report under Summary of Key recommendations Medical cost containment review items: C3 and C4. Also a listing of Department Efficiencies Analysis and Outsourcing Review: item B1

Now let’s look at the response.*

Consultants Report Redactions photo EPIFOIAResponse_zps435815eb.jpg

Yes, the response from the clerk’s office was to send the same redacted pages that the requester had asked to have restored. He evidently didn’t choose words that suited them so they decided to play dumb.

Or he wasn’t worth the effort to pick up the phone and clarify an apparently nonsensical request. Or the city attorney, whom I assume still advises the clerk/FOIA officer, needs to re-take Remedial FOIA 101 and is buying time to do so. Take your pick.

Way to enhance your professional image, City of DeKalb.

I suspect what happened is that certain recommendations were “negotiated” out of the consultants’ final report at the last minute. If so, too bad. As soon as the clerk included the report in a meeting agenda, it became a public document and no content contained within can be denied without citing specific FOIA exemptions.

The other possibility is that the document wasn’t final, but still a draft; in this case the proper procedure is to line out the deleted portions like this so everyone can see what’s been taken out. The city does this with other works in progress, such as proposed revisions to ordinances, all the time.

The request has been re-submitted. I’ll keep you posted.

*The city sent four pages with blacked-out items, plus several placeholder sheets noting pages intentionally left out of the report. I’m the one who redacted the name of the requester on the hand-written note seen with the report page above.