St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker on Friday continued a hearing in a suit accusing East St. Louis officials and staff of failing to abide by Freedom of Information Act requirements.
“I’m deeply disappointed,” civic activist Matt Hawkins said after it was announced the hearing would be continued. “But I plan on being here December 6 to get an explanation. I don’t know how this could make their case stronger.”
Kolker continued the hearing to Dec. 6 at 1:30 p.m.
Hawkins said the case was continued because Kolker was stuck in traffic court in East St. Louis and could not attend the hearing.
Hawkins filed the complaint more than three months ago against East St. Louis officials and staff, claiming he has not received a response from the city or its attorney regarding his request for documents concerning a Community Block Development Grant, where nearly $2.5 million was spent to renovate and/or build 16 housing units involving only 12 buildings. Hawkins’ FOIA request was filed nearly six months ago.
Hawkins seeks the court’s assistance to enforce his right to information concerning the city’s handling of grant money. According to the complaint, Hawkins requests that the court issue an immediate issuance of a writ of mandamus, which would compel the defendants to immediately release the requested public information and to “order the production of any public records improperly withheld from the plaintiff.”
Hawkins seeks treble damages for all monies found to be misappropriated by the defendants in regards to a tax increment finance program from 2009 to 2012, which adds up to about $120 million, he says.
Hawkins also has indicated he would use any damages awarded to begin the process of abating taxes for property owners who have allegedly been defrauded by the defendants. He also requests the court to seek full prosecution of the defendants for misconduct and remove them from office.
His suit seeks a judgment of at least $100,000 in damages and the imposition of a $5,000 fine for each FOIA violation.
“Any funds granted by the court would be used to make East St. Louis government more transparent and user friendly,” Hawkins stated in his complaint.
Hawkins is a plaintiff pro se.
Michael L. Wagner of Clayborne, Sabo & Wagner LLP in Belleville represents the defendants.
St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 13-MR-190