Public Access Opinion 22-004

Emails from Public Employee to Staff Concerning Policies, Procedure, and Employee Conduct

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 22-004
Date: Friday, March 11, 2022

The Village of Mount Prospect (Village) violated FOIA by improperly denying a FOIA request from a journalist.

On January 3, 2022, Requestor, on behalf of a local newspaper, submitted his FOIA request to the Mount Prospect Police Department (Police Department). The request sought a copy of an email that a retiring police chief from the Police Department sent to the rest of the employees.

The request was denied by the Village’s FOIA officer pursuant to section 7(1)(c) of FOIA the next day. The officer described the email as “very personal” and “the Chief’s last heartfelt message to his team upon his retirement.” An amended response was sent later that day with a disclosed copy of the email with most of the contents redacted pursuant to section 7(1)(c) of FOIA.

On January 14, 2022, Requestor submitted the copy of the email to the PAC along with a Request for Review disputing the redactions. Requestor said that his newspaper was informed that the “goodbye email” the retiring police chief sent to the Police Department contained information about the Police Department. The Village responded to the Request for Review by arguing that the redactions were justified under section 7(1)(f) of FOIA in addition to section 7(1)(c). They also said that the email was not a public record subject to the requirements of FOIA and that releasing an unredacted version of the email would be an invasion of personal privacy, because the contents contained personal thoughts and opinions of the police chief.

Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA exempts “[p]ersonal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The PAC noted that the email in question, which was sent while the police chief was employed with the Police Department, discusses Police Department policies and procedures as well as employee conduct.

Section 7(1)(f) of FOIA exempts “[p]reliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated, except that a specific record is publicly cited and identified by the head of the public body.”

The PAC argued that the Village’s argument for redacting the email based on section 7(1)(f) did not hold up because in order to qualify for exemption that the records must be “actually related to the process by which policies are formulated.” The email was not relevant in this way according to the PAC.

The PAC also noted that the police chief was still employed with the Police Department at the time of the email, which means that the opinions expressed in the email were in fact public records and not personal opinions.

For these reasons, the PAC directed the Village to send the Requestor an unredacted copy of the email, with the exception of personal email addresses and phone numbers.

This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.