It’s an ugly but common reality in public administration. A new genius is hired. They immediately start buying new toys and then proceed to justify the expense with a new policy enforcement. Such is the case with the City of DeKalb’s Management Analyst and FOIA officer, Aaron Stevens.
The City of DeKalb is paying GovQA some $18-$20k over the next two years for website services necessary for its new FOIA Center. The contract is, of course, renewable and the first year of the contract is paid in full.
Members of the public must visit the City of DeKalb’s $50,000+ website and click a link to another $18,000 website to submit their FOIA request. That became effective in May, 2017. The email address for the FOIA officer was disabled and it is now required to register, login and submit a form to request records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan publishes a handy FAQ page those who are trained and those who are not in the nuances of meeting FOIA requirements.
Can a public body require that a FOIA request be submitted on a certain form or in a certain format? No. Public bodies can require that FOIA requests be submitted in writing, but public bodies must accept requests by mail, personal delivery, fax, e-mail, or other means available. Public bodies may create a FOIA form that requesters may use for convenience, but public bodies cannot require that requesters use a specific form for the request. Public bodies may choose to accept oral FOIA requests but are not required to do so by the law.
I’ll assume Stevens is properly FOIA trained but perhaps suffering from tunnel vision to justify the GovQA expenditure. He probably wasn’t around when the City of DeKalb purchased its $50k website plus another $6-$8k annual maintenance fee. Besides the additional $20k for creating a form-based data center doesn’t seem like that much when it’s not your money you’re spending.
Watchdog Mark Charvat has already filed a Request for Review for a possible FOIA violation for the City of DeKalb’s refusal to send requested documents via email His request has been accepted.
Just me, but a better more friendly-to-the-public approach to a web-based FOIA fulfillment center is to offer carrots, not stick-in-your-face policy. Ask users for their voluntary participation and thank them for doing so.
Making demands that are not supported by the law is clumsy, rude and unprofessional. DeKalb can do better.
GovQA Contract signed by Anne Marie Gaura and John ReyGovQA Contract signed by Anne Marie Gaura and John Rey
Invoices and Check Requests GovGA to City of DeKalbInvoices and Check Requests GovGA to City of DeKalb
Also see: 2016 Annual FOIA Report