On Monday, Citizen Advocacy Center distributed a press release stating that, according to Illinois Attorney General's public access counselors, Elmhurst officials failed to comply with Freedom of Information Act rules.
Among other things, the press release included a statement from CAC Executive Director Maryam Judar, who said the City is exhibiting "unacceptable" behavior and "feels the need to shroud (the Addison Avenue) project in secrecy."
On Tuesday afternoon, city staff responded to the public access counselor's determination, stating that it does act "in an open and transparent manner," and that it "appreciates that there is a review process provided under FOIA for clarifications."
The city's statement, which came from City Manager Jim Grabowski on behalf of staff, said the city has provided nearly 1,000 pages to the requester, Tamara Brenner, related to the Addison Avenue project, as well as more than 800 pages to another person for the same project from April 4, 2013, to Jan. 2.
"Multiple requests were made throughout the summer of 2013 by (Brenner), and the City has provided over Nine Hundred (950) pages to this requestor for the Project," the statement reads. "The City determined that Twenty-Five (25) pages of the request were exempt under section 7(1)(f) of FOIA . The requestor asked for a determination to be made by PAC, which is provided for under FOIA. The PAC provided clarification that the balance of the documents should be released to the requestor with permitted redactions as appropriate under FOIA."
The City immediately complied with the public access counselor's letter and provided the remaining documents, with redactions as allowed by FOIA and outlined in the public access counselor's letter.
Brenner acknowledged during public comment at Monday's City Council meeting that she received the documents she had requested that afternoon, which was the same day the City received the letter from the public access counselor.
"I have submitted over the past few years a number of FOIA requests. Maybe the city would say too many," Brenner said Monday. "Rather than taking the attitude that citizen involvement is a nuisance and that filling FOIA requests is a waste of staff time … (the city) should make more documents available to the public through all the great technologies we have available. That could obviate the need for some of these FOIA requests to be submitted in the first place."
In addition to Brenner's request for cost analysis on the Addison project, Andrea Alvarez of the Citizen Advocacy Center on Monday outlined other FOIA requests filed by the Center that ask for:
- all information retained in daily appointment calendars for the city manager, assistant city manager and mayor from May 1 through Oct. 21, 2013
- all written communication between the city manager and Alderman Chris Healy
- any and all information, including communication between staff, contractors and consultants related to the Addison Avenue project
She said much of the information requested has not been provided, and calendar information released by the City resulted in "more questions than answers." She said the calendars "don't show a meeting schedule, but rather an absence of meetings."
The city's handling of FOIA is not uniform, she said.
"(For) complicated or controversial issues, the city seems to have difficulty responding to these requests," she said. "We'd be happy to help the city address these issues."
The full letter released by the City of Elmhurst Tuesday, as well as Monday's press release from Citizen Advocacy Center are attached to this article and can be downloaded.
Addison Deck Back in Front of Zoning Commission Jan. 23
A public hearing on the height of the proposed Addison Avenue parking garage will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 23, at City Hall.
Last February, developer Addison LLC applied for a conditional use permit to build a six-story, 68-foot high deck with about 20,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor and 30,000 square feet of office space on floors 2 an 3. Addison LLC wanted to be allowed to eliminate the mandatory setbacks and height restrictions and build the structure from lot line to lot line.
The Zoning and Planning Commission turned down this request in June, citing issues with getting in and out of the parking garage and potential pedestrian-vehicle accidents, and questioning the need for office space and additional parking. The commission called the plan to build the structure from lot line to lot line "highly problematic" in terms of safety, creative pedestrian use and future development on the west side of Addison Avenue.
In September, aldermen voted 8-4 to send the issue back to the Zoning Commission for reconsideration, with some modification from the original plan (no office space) but still including six stories.