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  • Writer's pictureTricia Babischkin

When Freedom of Information isn't Free

Over and over, we've heard that one of the causes of our out of control legal bills are the FOIAs, specifically the number of requests by Trustee Younge. When Phil gets asks about this, he says, "Trustees don't need to FOIA information." And in this he is 100% correct. In a village that is fully functional, no Trustee would have to FOIA information.

However, we've discovered that our village loves to play games -- and games are being played with the information. It appears the responsibility of sharing the requested information would fall to our CAO. But what is woefully missing in the codes that exempt a Trustee from the FOIA requirements is a reasonable turnaround of the information. So, while I've yet to find an email directly stating that the CAO refuses to turn over requested information, I have found emails that demonstrate that at least one Trustee informing the CAO to delay as long as possible turning over the information.

So the game goes like this, Trustee Younge starts asking for information. The CAO ignores the request and does not reply. Trustee Younge repeats his request. Mr. Berman steps in and calls Younge a few choice names and tells him to be patient, he'll "get it when he gets it." So, Trustee Younge files a FOIA (solely because there is a prescribed turnaround that can not be ignored). Mr. Berman calls out Trustee Younge for his FOIAs. Because of the number of FOIAs, Trustee Younge gets declared a "repeat requester" which extends the turnaround from 5 days to 21 days. Trustee Young gets his some (but not all) of his FOIAs, but in the meantime, the narrative is being built that Trustee Younge is putting a burden on the Village when none of that would have happened had the CAO responded in a timely manner. Additionally, a few meetings ago, our board cut off communication between Trustee Younge and the CAO without the power of the FOIA --- only continuing to make this situation worse.

One example of how this game plays out actually happened to Trustee Odom recently. We had a RedTail employee walk out of their job immediately after an interaction with our CAO. Trustee Odom emailed the day of the walkout that she'd like to review the video footage of RedTail during that interaction. Odom repeated this request at least 3 more times before the CAO finally responded shockingly on the exact day that the footage is auto-deleted (7 days after the video is taken). Given what we've seen with this administration do you really believe that 4+ emails all from Trustee Odom were 'lost' in the CAO's inbox for exactly the length of time that it takes for the video footage to be deleted?

Because of this, Trustees Odom and Younge have actually had to resort to the courts and have filed for 'injunctive relief' -- which is legal speak for "Stop it and do your job." The hearing is in November, but until then the village has been ordered to turn over all of the requested information that has to date been withheld. Additionally, future requests should be addressed in a reasonable timeframe. I also think that part of this is that the court is ordering the board and the village to ensure that all board members get the same access to information -- essentially, they can't play games with Trustee Younge's email or refuse to give him the requested information.

As if all of this wasn't bad enough, I read this morning in the NWHerald that they interviewed our President who claimed that this denial of information is "crazy." He categorically denied that it was happening. So, my question is: Is Phil that out of touch with what the CAO and Mr. Berman are doing OR is he misrepresenting the situation to the press? Either way, this looks very bad for our village and for our majority board.

To be fair, I believe the claim is that our village is small (true) and our CAO has been busy with village business and responding to all of the information that Trustees Younge and Odom have requested would be more than she can do. What I find curious about this claim is that none of the information requested is anything that would be hard for anyone to provide and some of it could easily be delegated. Now, look our CAO is (and should be) busy with village business. She should be working on the financials (but she's delegated that duty entirely to another employee), she should be correcting the budget issues that anyone with a calculator can spot (but we see that hasn't stopped spending without budgeting), she should be scheduling the training she claimed she would schedule to prevent the workplace harassment as a result of the 'investigation' into her management (she's not done this at all), she should be working with the audit (which I believe is going on longer than in the past -- wonder why?), and she should be writing the increase in permit fees to ensure our building department doesn't lose $40K this year. But she's not doing any of this, is she? So, what is taking all of her time? Surely it's not responding to the FOIAs from Trustee Younge.

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