Latest on the College Town Partners FOIA Matter


Let’s start with a summary of events.

— The group now known as Preserve Our Neighborhoods (PON) was formed last spring in response to concerns that residents were not being included in DeKalb-NIU redevelopment plans that would directly affect them.

— Misty Haji-Sheikh of PON received unsigned documents from an anonymous sender regarding a corporation formed for the purpose of redeveloping the John Street neighborhood.

— The corporation, College Town Partners, was of public interest because NIU and City of DeKalb were named as partners in documents related to its purpose and operations.

— Haji-Sheikh asked NIU and City of DeKalb for documents related to College Town Partners under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). DeKalb denied her some of the information under an exemption to FOIA for preliminary drafts/proposals.

— Haji-Sheikh requested that the Attorney General’s Office of Public Access review DeKalb’s denial of information to ensure the city has used the FOIA exemption properly. The AG accepted this Request for Review.

— City of DeKalb responded to the AG’s request to provide the legal basis for using the FOIA exemption(s) but in an unusual move the city asked for — and received — blanket confidentiality of its response.

— Haji-Sheikh is allowed under the review process to respond to the city’s response and she did so even though she hasn’t been allowed to read it.

Michael Haji-Sheikh has provided Misty’s response to the AG via Twitter.

The following are some of the Tweets plus my comments. Click on each image to view a larger version of it.

The FOIA exemption reads as follows:

5 ILCS 140/7(1)(f): Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda or other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, except that a specific record or relevant portion of a record shall not be exempt when the record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body.

The response makes the case that the requested information is anything but preliminary and has essentially already been placed in the public domain.

The point about improper use of “draft” is an important one. First, NIU had no problem providing the DeKalb 2020 document that DeKalb apparently decided to withhold. And while the DeKalb 2020 Prospectus was not explicitly approved by the city council, it seemed to have spawned a lot of activity — including city expenditures.

The next part of the argument is that the city should not withhold documents that reveal its participation in a public-private partnership. To get to this, Haji-Sheikh provides evidence of such a partnership via NIU documents and a $10,000 payment of TIF money to a corporation called DeKalb 2020, LLC.

And now, we get to College Town Partners.

I’m stopping here for today, but you should know that Michael Haji-Sheikh has also posted the supporting documentation sent to the AG. Don’t forget about conversation at City Barbs Blog on Facebook, too.