When a Proviso Township resident gave the Forest Park Review a copy of a legal settlement involving District 209 last week she explained she had gotten it by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request. Funny, we thought, because the newspaper had submitted a similar request asking for that very document. But we were denied.
We’re not buying that it was just timing, as school spokeswoman TaQuoya Kennedy said. Feels more like selective release of information to us. It remains unclear why sought after information was made available to one person, while another entity was told that its similar request was “voluminous” and too much of a “burden” and thus, couldn’t be filled.
Back in August, the Review submitted a FOIA request for nine very specific items. Number two read “Any and all documents related to the Donald Williams settlement.” The school can call it “voluminous,” we call it specific.
Princess Dempsey, a Broadview resident, on the other hand, submitted a request with only three items. Number one reads “Copies of all legal settlements for District 209 from 2003 to present.”
According to the Aug. 23 letter the school district sent the Review advising us to “narrow” our request or it wouldn’t be filled, eight years of settlements, as well as pending settlements and lawsuits in that time frame, is less “voluminous” than our specific request for all the documents related to one case.
It should be noted we did ask for nine items, and that it is also possible that the over 100 documents turned over to Dempsey were less “voluminous” than what we asked for in total. But, at the end of the day, at least one glaring fact remains: information that we specifically asked for was denied to us and given to someone who also asked for it, and in a much broader way.
To be fair, we also point out that we initially submitted our FOIA request on Aug. 9, a day after the board approved “the Donald Williams settlement,” as it is known. D209’s financial oversight panel, which oversees all the district spending, did not approve the agreement until Aug. 15. And, according to Kennedy, the board did not actually sign the document until Aug. 27, thus making it officially official. Dempsey submitted her request “on or about Aug. 29,” after the document was super-duper finalized, which would be the district’s explanation of why Dempsey got the information while the local newspaper did not.
Might have been simpler if when D209 Superintendent Nettie Collins-Hart was corresponding with the Review (when D209 asked for an extension on Aug. 17, and when, the request was denied on Aug. 23), she informed us that the document was not official yet.
Had she done so, we would have waited until it was “official,” and resubmitted the request. We’ve already resubmitted another, more “narrow,” request, per the district’s advice, but only because we were able to get some of the information we sought from a Proviso resident.
The Review has appealed the district’s rejection of our FOIA request to the Illinois Attorney General’s office. That office has now asked the school district to elaborate on its reasons for denying our request. We’ll keep you informed.