The City of Geneva Came Through (because they had to!)

When we last left off, not only was Geneva’s reigning queen, Mary McKittrick, threatening to lop Alderman Dean Kilburg’s head clean off for having the temerity to request workman’s comp numbers, but princess Stephanie Dawkins offered a fascinating take on our FOIA statute.

But why listen to my blather when the COW meeting minutes compiled by the City say it all; Ald. 

Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dawkins

Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dawkins

Kilburg asked if this information could be obtained via FOIA. Dawkins stated that state law does not require the city to ‘create’ a new report for the purpose of FOIA so she was not confident that it would qualify.

Just to prove a point, yours truly FOIA’d the very information Kilburg requested. More on that later because Assistant City Manager Dawkins’ legal jewel wasn’t nearly the only disinformation disseminated at that meeting.

Why, by the time it was adjourned, one might say the manure was knee deep. Since the City seems incapable of behaving, let’s set the statutory situation straight once and for all right here.

1. The FOIA laws are clear

Aside from being a real pain in the ass, I rarely apply the term “expert” to my name, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I may not have gotten much out of toiling eight years for newspapers, but I know the FOIA statute backwards, forwards and sideways.

Law enforcement requests are different, but in general, when it comes to municipal data, you have to hand it over. Of course, you can’t FOIA city employees’ home addresses, violate HIPA laws, or make an overly burdensome request, but everything else is fair game.

These laws were written with transparency in mind and the Attorney General and most judges take a dim view of government entities that balk at a reasonable request.

2. Aldermen are ENTITLED to city data

Aldermen, village trustees, county board members, township trustees etc.., are statutorily entitled to any information regarding the body on which they serve. (With the same exceptions as the FOIA statute.)

This, of course, makes our whole argument moot because the appropriate city manager response to Kilburg’s request would’ve been, “How soon do you need the data?” Instead, the assistant city manager downright lied and queen Mary  demanded to know the reason for the request.

To reiterate, my response would’ve been, “None of your damn business!”

And Mayor Burns’ contention that the City Council had come to an unspoken accord on these kind of aldermanic inquiries is pure unadulterated BS. At least three alderman weren’t even around for this supposed consensus and it’s generally wielded as a weapon to keep the aldermen in check and in the dark.

The bottom line here is, though the City of Geneva is self insured, I’m sure the insurance company that monitors that process could provide the information with a minimal effort.

3. Aldermen do more than “set policy.”

The other assertion queen Mary regularly bandied about that meeting was that all aldermen do is set policy. Then it’s up to City staff to carry it out.

Not even close!

When it comes to any of the previously mentioned government bodies, all of the power lies with those boards. City Manager McKittrick serves only at the behest of the City Council. The mayor governs with “the advice and consent” of the council.

So while it would be a bit unruly to have the aldermen involved in absolutely every aspect of the City, in the end, nothing happens without them. Yes! They do set policy, but they should also regularly review that policy, and enforce it’s appropriate and ongoing implementation.

But Queen Mary clearly thinks she can cow (pun intended) that group into believing she’s the boss while the truth is, the aldermen should be watching her and Mayor Burns like a collective group of hawks – because it’s their job.

And since we’re on the subject of policy setting, I wonder if the city council knows that Ms. McKittrick regularly lobbies state officials regarding a certain aspect of FOIA law she finds distasteful? Though it’s an interesting proposition (we’ll discuss that later), the question is, just who set that policy?

In the end, municipal attorney Chuck Radovich likely set Queen Mary and princess Stephanie straight and the City of Geneva appropriately answered my FOIA. I, in turn, forwarded the information along to Alderman Kilburg.

Though I once had high hopes for our Third Ward councilman, Kilburg doesn’t choose his battles wisely, he doesn’t garner the support necessary to win those skirmishes, and he doesn’t finish what he starts. If you add that up it comes out to not being very effective.

Perhaps his tenure on the Geneva school board should’ve been fair warning. Who’d have thunk anyone could make me long for Ray Pawlak? (I kid the former alderman!)

Lastly, with Rick Nagel gone, my Patch posts will likely diminish. It’s just not the same without him. Since local newspapers are understaffed, I will endeavor to “patch” those holes by regularly covering City of Geneva, D304 School Board and the Library Board proceedings on my blog www.thefirstward.net. I look forward to seeing you there.

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