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Island Lake FOIA requests covered a variety of topics
By Russell Lissau | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 4/25/2010 12:06 AM

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Even though village board members generally don't need to file formal requests for documents, Island Lake Trustee Laurie Rabattini submitted 22 such petitions during the first three months of this year, a Daily Herald review of village records shows.

Rabattini's requests, made under the state's Freedom of Information Act, sought copies of invoices, the village budget, union contracts and other documents.

She also sought copies of any e-mails written by other board members or employees about her blog.

Trustee John Ponio wasn't far behind when it came to FOIA requests. He submitted 20 during the same period.

The requests from Ponio and Rabattini far outnumbered those from the rest of the village board. No other trustee filed more than three FOIA requests, records show.

Earlier this month, village attorney Scott Puma said FOIA requests aren't necessary for trustees because they are entitled to such information to perform their village duties. Additionally, a top village staffer said the trustees' copious requests take multiple employees several hours to fill.

The Daily Herald inspected the Island Lake trustees' requests through its own Freedom of Information Act inquiry. The examination was prompted by a Daily Herald story in which Rabattini and Ponio claimed they were being unfairly forced to file FOIA requests for documents.

Both said they'll continue to file formal requests to ensure they get records in a timely manner.

"I have to file a FOIA request if I want anything, otherwise I'm not going to get anything," Ponio said.

Retooled last year by state lawmakers, the Freedom of Information Act gives people access to public records such as contracts, budgets and elected officials' e-mails. The law gives government agencies a specific time frame to fulfill or reject requests, and it provides an appeals process involving a special department of the attorney general's office.

State law doesn't specifically address the practice, but elected officials typically aren't required to file FOIA requests for documents, the attorney general's office has said. Only a few cases - including ones involving the DuPage Water Commission and Palatine Township Elementary District 15 - have surfaced in the Northwest suburbs in recent years.

The examination of FOIAs filed by Island Lake's trustees showed a large disparity among the board members.

Trustee Don Saville filed three FOIA requests during the first quarter of 2010. He sought copies of meeting summaries, the town's FOIA policy, information relating to his 2008 censure and other matters.

Trustees Donna O'Malley and Connie Mascillino each submitted one request.

Mascillino wanted a record of all FOIA inquiries submitted to the village this year.

O'Malley filed her lone FOIA request to see if Saville or his wife had purchased village vehicle stickers for one of their cars, which they hadn't. She later used that information to publicly question Saville about the matter at a village board meeting.

Trustee Don Verciglio made no FOIA requests. Neither did Mayor Debbie Herrmann.

Then there's Rabattini.

The first-term trustee has asked for a copy of the village budget, bills from vendors, bills from the law firm representing the village, information about vehicle and boat sticker sales, a detailed report about police department staffing and other documents, village records show.

One request asked for sample copies of every village form or piece of stationery purchased from a commercial printer, as well as their related costs. Another asked for the labor costs associated with the village's parades, carnivals, holiday parties and other events, dating back to 2005.

Rabattini - who is often critical of Herrmann, the mayor's allies on the board and the village administration - insists her queries are necessary to do her job.

She believes officials have deliberately withheld documents and information from her and her political allies, so filing a formal FOIA request ensures she gets the information.

"What's going on in Island Lake is a political power play, and if this administration continues to endorse such games, I will continue to exercise my right to (use) FOIA," Rabattini said in an e-mail.

Ponio is taking the same approach.

In the 20 requests he submitted between January and March, Ponio sought copies of bills, the names of the part-time police officers employed by the village in recent years, payroll records and other documents.

Ponio dismissed Puma's opinion that FOIA requests are unnecessary for trustees. He insisted he can't get information easily without them because village officials "are trying to lock me out of the village government."

Voluminous FOIA requests can be burdensome for the village staff, officials said. It may take several employees many hours to dig for requested information, Island Lake Finance Director John Little said.

"(For) the majority of the FOIAs, the information is not at our finger tips," Little said in an e-mail. "For example a (request for) receipts from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 requires one to go through each month's receipts for (those) years. Each month has, on average, 300 to 400 receipts."

Herrmann acknowledged trustees have the right to file FOIA requests for information, but she compared some of the inquiries they've made to seeking a needle in a haystack.

"In my opinion, a trustee's time would be much better spent working on projects that are beneficial to both the village and our residents instead of perusing information to fill their own personal agendas," Herrmann said in an e-mail.

Rabattini denied her requests are excessive. Island Lake, she said, is a town "that runs its government absent transparency, especially toward some elected officials."