No answer yet from Fairview Heights on FOIA refusal exemptions

Amelia Flood Jun. 22, 2009, 11:50am



City officials have yet to formally state why they denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Madison County Record that asked to see attorneys' bills.

The paper is attempting to determine how much the city and its lawyers took away from a four-year-old battles with 13 online travel companies.

While the Record has determined through released settlement documents that the net gain for both was $315,000, there have been no answers as to how the money was split.

The Record filed its FOIA request June 7. The city denied it June 12 in a letter from City Clerk Joseph Kassly. In his letter, Kassly wrote that after consulting with City Attorney Al Paulson, Paulson told him the bills were protected and could contain information on personnel and other matters.

However, Kassly's letter did not cite the actual exemptions in the FOIA law claimed by the city. Illinois law mandates that public bodies refusing FOIA requests must cite the specific exemption that the information falls under.

The Record asked the Clerk's Office to clarify which exemptions it claimed June 18. The paper plans to appeal the ruling to Fairview Heights Mayor Gail Mitchell once it is informed of which exemptions are claimed.

A call to Paulson's Belleville office Monday afternoon was not immediately returned. Kassly is out of town, according to his office.
Fairview Heights sued online travel companies like Orbitz, Expedia and others for what it claimed were back hotel-motel room taxes.

Although the original class action failed to gain certification when removed to federal court, Fairview Heights pursued the suits as individual claims. All defendants settled. The last, the Orbitz group, settled in March this year.

The city has only received one settlement check to date. That check was from the Expedia group of defendants. While the settlement called for the travel provider to pay out $105,000, the city has only received just over $56,000. No answer has been provided about the remaining monies from that check.

Mitchell, in previous interviews with the Record, has said that the suits did not cost the city anything, even though the settlements called for the parties to bear their own costs. He has previously said he does not know what the city's legal team took away from the suits.

Fairview Heights was represented in the suits by Paulson, Kevin Hoerner and St. Louis attorney Richard Burke.

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