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Why So Secretive?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Why So Secretive?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
June 25, 2008

On May 15th I filed a FOIA Request with the City of Woodstock for information about a traffic crash in which a McHenry County Corrections Officer allegedly left the scene of an accident after a party at Coleman & Co. called the Bailiff's Ball.

Standard procedure with FOIA requests is to address them to the City's Freedom of Information Officer. That person makes a determination whether, and to what extent, the request can be complied with, and that person responds.

On June 20 the law firm of Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle replied on behalf of the Woodstock Police Department and denied my request.

Their letter informed me that the official responsible for the denial is Sgt. Richard Johns (of the Woodstock Police Department).

Here's my question to the City: Why didn't Dick Johns reply directly to me? Why were City funds (so precious now, to hear the City say) expended to have the City Attorney's office reply to me and pass out the "boilerplate" reasons denying my request? Just how much did that letter cost? $150? $300? Did the City think I would be more impressed (or scared off) by the law firm's letterhead on the response? (I'm not.)

The denial was based on the position that release of the information would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of person privacy..." Baloney. If it was a hit-and-run, what "privacy" is a driver entitled to? Sure, he's innocent until found guilty.

And we all know he wasn't drinking; right? No sheriff's department employee would go to a bar for a Friday night party and drink. Would he?

If a driver leaves the scene, gets tracked down and is issued a ticket, that's public information. Woodstock PD should have issued a Press Release, and the information should have been in the paper and on the radio within 2-3 days. The citation goes to the courthouse, and a trial date is a public record. If the City wants to redact his address, DOB, D/L number, fine.

The second reason for the denial was that "... disclosure would interfere with pending law enforcement proceedings and deprive the individual involved of a fair trial or an impartial hearing." This one is a double slice of baloney.

How in the world could releasing court date information interfere with his getting a fair trial?

What I am interested in, is that he GETS a trial! That is, he ends up in court and doesn't skate off into the blue because he is connected with the Sheriff's Department.

The City Attorney's office also informed me that I could appeal to Tim Clifton and, if the denial is upheld, file suit in Circuit Court.

I mean, this is all stupid! This is how Woodstock wants to spend its taxpayer revenues? The appeal with Tim Clifton will be filed.

And, since it seems to be standard practice in the law enforcement field to blow this kind of smoke, suspecting that an individual doesn't have the resources to file a further appeal in Circuit Court, maybe it's time to figure out just how to file such an appeal. It's all boilerplate, just as the Motions to Dismiss or to Suppress that will follow are boilerplate, as are the subsequent Responses to Motions.

What we need in Woodstock is a transparent government and not one that thinks it is better than the people it is here to serve.

If anyone has more information for me about that crash and especially the name of the driver , actual charge, or the court date, please let me know right away.

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance!" (John Philpot Curran (1750-1817), Irish judge and politician)

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