ST. CHARLES – The Illinois Attorney General’s office issued an opinion recently that overturns St. Charles District 303’s designation of a local resident as a “recurrent requester” under the Freedom of Information Act.
If individuals are recurrent requesters, the public body can take longer than five days to respond, according to a section of Illinois’ open records act.
A recurrent requester refers to a person who has submitted 50 requests in 12 months, 15 requests in a 30-day period or seven requests in a seven-day period, according to the law.
The district considered an October request from Kathy Kapusta of Campton Hills seeking eight financial records to be eight separate requests. The attorney general’s office disagreed, issuing a nonbinding opinion and instructing the district to respond to Kapusta’s open records requests according to the law.
Kapusta said the district’s lawyers should know the law regarding FOIA requests, especially when there is the precedence of earlier binding opinions.
“Their own legal counsel should know what exemptions are and are not allowed,” Kapusta said. “Taxpayers and citizens should not be writing letters back and forth with the agency for a FOIA response.”
District 303 spokesman Jim Blaney said the district was seeking some additional guidance from the attorney general.
“We responded the way we interpreted the law,” Blaney said. “The attorney general did not agree with [it], and we don’t have any further questions.”
The district had told Kapusta it would respond within 21 days, because she was a recurrent requester – a designation she disputed to the attorney general.
The district responded that lawmakers could not have intended “a requester to consolidate a virtually unlimited number of requests for records in a single request and asserted that multiple requests for records constitutes one FOIA request only if there is a ‘logical connection or relationship between the nature or types of records sought.’ ”
In her response, Kapusta said subparts of her request were related and constitute one request. She also cited a 2012 binding opinion of the attorney general on the issue of recurrent requesters.
In a nonbinding opinion, Assistant Illinois Attorney General Matt Hartman of the Public Access Bureau wrote that District 303 did not provide history or authority to its assertion regarding a logical connection among the records sought.
“The district’s treatment of the FOIA request as constituting eight separate requests is patently inconsistent with its own interpretation of the act,” Hartman wrote. “Five subparts of the FOIA request pertain specifically to the St. Charles East Drill Team or its Boosters. There is clearly a ‘logical connection or relationship between the nature or types of records sought’ by these five subparts.
“Consequently, even under the district’s erroneous interpretation of when multiple categories of records may properly be considered to constitute a single request, these subparts should not have been counted as individual inquiries,” according to Hartman’s review.
“This office concludes that the district improperly designated Ms. Kapusta as a recurrent requestor,” according to Hartman’s letter. “The district must respond to Ms. Kapusta’s future FOIA requests within five business days unless it properly extends the time for response or Ms. Kapusta has submitted the requisite number of FOIA requests to be properly designated a recurrent requestor.”
District 303 posts open records requests and their cost to the district on its website, http://district.d303.org.