City of Danville Must Comply With FOIA Request Related to Housing Task Force

May 8, 2018

On April 25, 2018, the Fourth District Illinois Appellate Court decided City of Danville v. Madigan, 2018 IL App (4th) 170182 (April 25, 2018), a case regarding a City’s possession of public records related to a community task force. In 2014, the City of Danville convened a “Housing Task Force” comprised of eighteen (18) constituents and four (4) City employees. The objective of the task force was to provide goals, objectives, and recommendations related to housing strategy for the period of 2015 to 2020. After the Task Force submitted its final report and recommendations to the City Council, a member of the public submitted a FOIA request seeking the meeting times, locations, and notices of the meetings of the Task Force; copies of all minutes, notes, and documents of the Task Force; and all communications between Task Force members and City employees or officers. The City denied the request, asserting that the Task Force was not a public body and not subject to FOIA. The requester sought review by the Public Access Counselor, which found that the City violated FOIA in its denial of the request, construing the request as one directed to the City – not the Task Force, for documents related to the City’s business, and thus subject to FOIA. The City sought administrative review in the Vermilion County Circuit Court, and the circuit court upheld the PAC’s decision, granting summary judgment for the Attorney General’s Office.

The Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the City erred by construing the request as directed towards the Housing Task Force, when it was, in fact, directed to the City. The Appellate Court easily concluded that the City is a public body, subject to FOIA. The City further challenged whether records related to the Task Force were “public records” under the Act. The Court emphasized the City’s possession of the requested records and their relation to the transaction of public business. Because the Task Force’s stated objective was to guide policymaking, decisions, and strategy implemented by the City, the records were related to the transaction of public business. The Court rejected the City’s slippery slope rationale for not providing the records, stating that the City could have asserted the various exemptions under Section 7 that are designed to protect non-public information from disclosure to the public at-large.

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