City passes FOIA policy


City Attorney Dean Frieders speaks during the June 22 City Council meeting. The city approved a new Freedom of Information Act policy.

By Margaret Maka

City Council approved a 27-page policy pertaining to Freedom of Information Act requests made to DeKalb at a June 22 meeting.

The Freedom of Information Act states government bodies must present all documents and records, permitting certain exceptions, to the public when requested. DeKalb didn’t have a uniform policy on how FOIA requests are handled, including charges for documents that are requested under FOIA, said City Attorney Dean Frieders at the meeting.

“If requests for information falls within the definition of a FOIA request … the city’s obligated to process it as a FOIA,” Frieders said. “We’re obligated to ensure that we comply with the applicable statutory time limits. If someone submits a request for information that contains a request for one or more public documents … that’s a FOIA request and if we don’t respond to that within the statutory timeline we’re engaging in a violation of FOIA.”

Frieders said that a significant amount of work goes into larger FOIA requests.

“We often receive FOIAs that are not seeking any one individual tangible document but that rather are casting a broader net of information,” Frieders said. “Requests that are worded along the lines of, ‘I’d like a copy of any document maintained by the city in any form that in any way relates to a given topic.’ So when we receive those requests we have to ensure that we’re working with all the city’s departments identifying records they may have in a variety of forms and producing all those records for review.”

Frieders said the new FOIA policy would need to be implemented initially in a broad-based manner to ensure that all employees can recognize if an information request falls under FOIA.

City ‘not in compliance’

During the public participation portion of the meeting, DeKalb resident Misty Haji-Sheikh said she found numerous statements that were incorrect in the policy.

“Your handbook in the third part says, ‘This guide contemplates the potential for documents to be reviewed in person without charge,’” Haji-Sheikh said. “And you go on in your general notes to say, ‘If a person requests to inspect documents in person in lieu of receiving a copy the city shall keep a complete copy of all responsive documents inspected … and shall charge for all documents provided to the requester after inspection.’ That’s a charge. You are saying both that it is free and that there is a charge. The FOIA does not provide a charge for inspection.”

The city is required to prominently display a brief description of how the public may request information and public records, a directory designating the Freedom of Information Act officer, the address for where requests of public records should be directed and any applicable fees relating, Haji-Sheikh said.

“On June 11, I came to City Hall to try to find the required prominently displayed material,” Haji-Sheikh said. “The information was not prominently displayed anywhere. … The city of DeKalb is not in compliance.”

DeKalb resident Michael Haji-Sheikh said some of the material in the proposed policy is sensitive and urged the members of the council to have the FOIA policy reviewed by an external council.