GENEVA – When a Geneva alderman asked for information at an open meeting, Mayor Kevin Burns admonished him for violating a standard the council members had agreed upon.
According to the policy, elected officials would not request additional work from professional staff if it falls outside action taken at a meeting. And later, a private citizen filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and 3rd Ward Alderman Dean Kilburg said the citizen got the information Kilburg had asked for.
Kilburg requested workman’s compensation information relating to injuries that required time off work for each department.
“I don’t have a bone to pick with anyone,” Kilburg said. “I had asked for the information a couple of years earlier, and they provided the information. I thought it was time to revisit it. ... I did not think it was too much to ask for information that could be pulled out of a file and forwarded in 30 seconds. It was provided to a citizen. Why not provide it to an alderman?”
Burns said Kilburg had been provided that information in 2010, 2011, 2012 and in October, and had been at city hall meetings with staff to put the workman’s compensation issues in context.
“We have, over the years, experienced the unfortunate situation where elected officials have asked for information based purely on curiosity,” Burns said. “And such requests, oftentimes, detract from professionals staff doing the jobs they are assigned to do as the goals and objectives set by the council.”
Burns said the council’s job is to create policy and for professional staff to carry it out – not for aldermen to tell department heads how to run things.
“That is not good government,” Burns said. “It is inefficient, ineffective and, I believe, it creates a culture [of] distrust amongst and between council members and between council and professional staff. We agreed when we see such overtures, we need to tell each other ... to back off.”
Esther Seitz, an attorney who represents Illinois media in FOIA and open meetings issues, said the powers of government are supposed to be separated, so one can check on the performance of the other.
“They have to have information made available to them to make that assessment and not make it blindly,” Seitz said. “As elected officials of that particular public body, they have a unique and exceptional obligation to make sure other factions of that public body are doing their job properly.”
Creating needless work for the public body, and then not putting the information to use, does not further open government and transparency, Seitz said.
Batavia Assistant City Administrator Jason Bajor, who is the city’s FOIA officer, said the city has no restriction on requests for information among elected aldermen.
“Whenever an official asks for information, it is provided, the same as it would be if a citizen asked for it,” Bajor said. “There is no policy that would preclude us from providing an elected official that information.”