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IL: Governor’s office denies request for emails about southern Illinois appearance

By   /   July 27, 2012  /   News  /   3 Comments

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to reporters about drought relief during a news conference in a drought-stricken field in rural Waltonville in Jefferson County on July 16.

By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD – Whether  Gov. Pat Quinn’s staff moved the location for a southern Illinois news conference to avoid protesters remains a mystery.

The governor’s office Thursday denied a Freedom of Information Act request by IllinoisWatchdog.org, formerly Illinois Statehouse News, about planning for the event, held earlier this month.

Watchdog asked for “any and all correspondence to and from governor’s office employees regarding the governor’s appearance in southern Illinois on July 16.” This included correspondence for July 12-17.

Watchdog wants to know if  the news conference was moved from a Waltonville farmstead to a field several miles away, with local police monitoring the entrance.

Rumors abounded that the governor’s staff moved the location to dodge state employees, family members and others protesting Quinn’s plan to close several state facilities in southern Illinois, including prisons and centers for developmentally disabled people.

Quinn’s spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, denied the rumors.

Benno Weisberg, an attorney and the FOIA officer for the governor’s office, denied the records request. In a letter, he said staff found “approximately 10 emails responsive to your request,” but that they were being withheld in their entirety.

Weisberg cited a FOIA exemption that allows officials to withhold “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.”

The denial will be appealed to the Illinois attorney general’s public access counselor.

Don Craven, a Springfield attorney who specializes in open government matters, said the “preliminary drafts” exemption to Illinois FOIA law is overused and that attempts to get lawmakers to rein in the exemption have been unsuccessful.

The justifiable purpose of the exemption, he said, is to allow staff members debating policy to be candid as they’re discussing the nuances of a particular issue.

“It’s got nothing to do with frantic emails or texts among the governor’s staff about where to set up a podium so he doesn’t have to look at state-employee protesters,” Craven said.

“Pat Quinn from four years ago would have demanded that those very documents be released. Pat Quinn from 20 years ago would have demanded that those very documents be released. Those are precisely those kinds of documents that the taxpayers are entitled to see.”

Jayette Bolinski can be reached at [email protected].

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Jayette formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.