ILLINOIS — A local newspaper has appealed to the IllinoisAttorney General because McHenry County College is continuing to deny its publicrecords request, despite an advisory opinion to disclose the records.
The Northwest Herald requested the performance evaluations of formerMCC President Walt Packard, who left his post in spring 2009 in the middle of athree-year contract. Since that time Packard has received $250,000 incompensation and benefits.
The school went to the attorney general’s office to see if the records wereexempt under the personal privacy exemption to Illinois’ open-records law.
“Our premise on this whole thing is we feel this is an invasion ofprivacy,” said Pat Stejskal, MCC’s Freedom of Information Act officer.
The attorney general’s office informed the college in a Sept. 7 letter thatit should disclose the records.
“It’s designed to be a check and balance on the use of certain exemptions,”said Cara Smith, the attorney general’s public access counselor. “In the vast,vast majority of cases public bodies comply with our decision, but we have had afew, and this is one of them, where the public body, for whatever reason,persists in denying access to the information despite our office’s opinion.”
She confirmed that MCC formally denied the request Sept. 13 and that theNorthwest Herald has appealed the denial.
Stejskal said MCC’s policy is that all employee performance evaluations areclosed from public record.
“The principle is if a supervisor’s workperformance review could show up in the paper tomorrow they are not going to becandid in giving constructive feedback,” Stejskal said.
Stejskal said the college is actively working with the public accesscounselor on the issue.
“We strictly adhere to FOIA and are going along with the instructions,”Stejskal said.
Don Craven, a lawyer for the Illinois Press Association, said MCC’s actionsare nothing more than a “stalling act.”
He said the school is waiting for November, when a bill exempting allperformance evaluations for state employees could come into effect. It hasalready passed in the legislature and has an amendatory veto from the governor,which will be discussed in the November general assembly. The school hopes thereis a change in wording.
“The college says, ‘because that might become law wearen’t going to turn this over,'” Craven said. “Because they paid a formerpresident of the college for ten or 11 months when he wasn’t there… and thisis the only way [to show that.]”
The Northwest Herald has the option to file a suit for thedocuments. At this time, they are still considering legal action.
“We’d prefer to look to a brighter future. But the college, inparticular its Board of Trustees, won’t let us,” the Herald wrotein a Sunday editorial. “The principle the college board should be standing on isto come clean with taxpayers.”
Smith said the attorney general’s office willreview both sides of the appeal, and then has the option to give a binding or aninformal decision.
“It is my sense, given the position of the college, that we’ll issue abinding opinion,” Smith said.
Smith said it could be months before a decision is reached.
“This is how good case law is made, so we welcome the opportunity toresolve this more formally than we felt we would have needed to,” shesaid.