Reporting Bob Roberts
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MAYWOOD, Ill. (WBBM) – Last spring, in a chance meeting, Maywood village trustee candidate Cheryl Ealey asked Village Clerk Gary Woll why the village was dragging its feet on the release of a number of documents sought by those challenging the administration.
Ealey claims that Woll told her that the village “won’t give you information to use against us.”
Ealey said she is still awaiting volumes of documents requested under the state’s public records law during her campaign, which proved unsuccessful. And she’s losing patience.
She is one of four Maywood residents who have filed suit against the village in Cook County Circuit Court. They claim officials have illegally stonewalled their records requests.
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State law enacted Jan. 1, 2010, requires public bodies to respond to such requests within five days. Ealey is requesting meeting agendas and minutes, a copy of the line-by-line village budget and records of its tax increment financing (TIF) projects and economic development commission.
“If there’s information in the context of the document that I should not be privy to, they can redact it,” she said. “So I just thought that I was getting the runaround.”
Complaints under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) can be referred for action to the office of the Public Access Counselor, in the Illinois attorney general’s office. Those going to the Public Access Counselor can request a binding decision.
Ealey said the four have made no attempt to contact the Public Access Counselor.
Instead, they have gone to court under FOIA, filing a suit in Cook County Circuit Court seeking both release of the documents and fines for non-compliance.
Ealey estimated that she alone has made close to 40 requests for documents under FOIA over the years.
Other documents the four seek include credit card statements for purchases made by former Maywood Village Manager Jason Ervin, who is now a Chicago alderrman.
The suit was filed acted less than a month after Gov. Pat Quinn signed a measure that brands those who file frequent requests “recurrent requestors,” and gives public bodies weeks to respond.
Ealey said the newly-signed revision weakens the law. Several journalism and activist groups, including the Illinois Press Association, Chicago Headline Club, Illinois News Broadcasters Association, Better Government Association and Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, agree and fought the bill Quinn signed.
Asked if the recent change in the law is an attempt to silence political opposition, Ealey said, “Yes.”
WBBM Newsradio is attempting to obtain a response from the village of Maywood.