Public Access Opinion 22-011

Applications of Individuals Not Appointed to Board Vacancy Are Disclosable

Freedom of Information Act - FOIA
Case: Public Access Opinion 22-011
Date: Monday, July 25, 2022

On April 10, 2022, Requestor submitted a FOIA request to the Village of Chatham (Village) seeking the “names and applications of the candidates for” a vacancy on the Village Board of Trustees. The Village denied the request under Sections 7(1)(c) and 7(1)(f) of FOIA, arguing that the application process was confidential and that “[c]andidates’ resumes and solicitations for appointment to office contain information for the Village to evaluate their credentials; however this information is not readily available to the public and does not become public merely by inclusion with an application to the Village.” Eventually the Village provided Requestor with responsive records for the successful candidate who was appointed to the Board of Trustees, but it continued to deny responsive records for the unsuccessful candidates. Requestor then filed a Request for Review with the PAC.

Upon review, the PAC first considered and rejected the Village’s assertion that candidates’ submissions were not public records. Not only did the submissions directly relate to both Village business and the interests of the Village community, but they were received and possessed by the Village. Next, the PAC considered Section 7(1)(c) of FOIA, which exempts from disclosure “[p]ersonal information contained within public records, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” To meet this exemption, the Village needed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the information at issue was highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable person and that the subject’s right to privacy outweighed any legitimate public interest in the information. The PAC held that the Village failed to meet this burden. Finally, the PAC considered Section 7(1)(f) of FOIA, which exempts from disclosure “[p]reliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.” Again, the PAC held that the Village failed meet its burden because it did not demonstrate that the contents of the responsive records revealed any opinions concerning the candidates.

Based on the above, the PAC held that the Village violated FOIA by improperly withholding responsive records. The PAC directed the Village to provide the responsive records to Requestor, except for permissible redaction of individuals’ personal phone numbers, home addresses, personal email addresses, and signatures as “private information” under Section 7(1)(b) of FOIA. This opinion is binding only to the parties involved and may be appealed pursuant to State law.