Worth Township Denies Freedom of Information Request Seeking 102 Documents
Worth Township Community First slate claims incumbents are using stall tactics to keep information from being made public before April 9 election.
Worth Township Supervisor John “Jack” Murphy says that political opponents in the upcoming election are harassing the township board through a recent freedom of information act request seeking 17 years’ worth of financial records.
Evergreen Park-resident John Wazio filed six requests last month seeking Worth Township budgets, audits and elected officials’ credit card receipts—102 documents in total—dating back to 1996.
The township denied the request, even though the documents are public records, deeming Wazio a “repeat filer.”
The scope of the request covers the period that the core of the current township board have been in office—including Murphy, assessor John Toscas, clerk Roger Benson, and township trustees John “Jack” Lind and Michael Mahoney--who were elected in 1997.
All are running together on the United Party of Worth Township slate.
Kevin Hughes, who is up against incumbent Murphy for town supervisor, said the information being sought ties in with his Worth Township Community First Part slate’s platform of term limits, and salary, pension and benefit freezes.
The township’s denial of the financial documents—which are public records—most likely will not come under the public scrutiny until after the April 9 election, Hughes said.
“For the last 16 years, part-time [township elected officials] have participated in a full-time township employee benefits program,” Hughes said. “This goes into the basis of the freedom of information act request that we’ve been rejected on.”
The “repeat filer” rule was added to Illinois’s Freedom of Information Act in 2010, which is designed to prevent government bodies from being harassed by repeat filers requesting information that is unchanged or identical to previous requests within a 12-month period.
An individual submitting more than two freedom of information requests can be deemed a “repeat filer,” provided that a government body has responded to the individual’s previous requests either by denial or releasing the requested documents.
Hughes said the “repeat filer” statute does not apply in Wazio’s case, because it was the first time that he had filed freedom of information requests with the township.
“They have no intention of giving us that information before the election,” Hughes said.
Town Clerk Benson said he when he saw the extent of the request that he took it to the township board’s legal counsel.
“It’s time consuming to go through files,” Benson said. “When I saw the extent of the request I asked the attorneys about it.”
Benson said that the township board’s legal counsel, attorney Burt Odelson, analyzed the request and “gave it a legal analysis.”
“They can poke around all they want,” Benson said. “[The challengers] talk about term limits and pensions, but not one thing of how we run the township. We’ve reduced operating costs by 10 percent. If anything, we’re lean and mean.”
Murphy accused the Community First party of “overloading the system.”
“We asked for an extension,” Murphy said. “We haven’t heard back from [Community First] to my knowledge. All they want to do is harass us. They’re just trying to clog up the system and make the clerk’s office look bad.”
Some of the items requested—credit card receipts—the township doesn’t have because elected officials don’t have credit cards, Murphy said.
“They don’t understand what’s going on in the township,” the town supervisor added.
The most recent financial report posted on the township’s web site is for the fiscal year that ended on Feb. 29, 2012.
But Hughes says the information that is lacking are what is spent on part-time, elected township officials' health benefits, pensions, and expenditures on roads and other programs.
“There isn’t a lot of transparency with the current township government,” Hughes said. “They’re not posting any of that information. [The freedom of information act request] requested things outside of that.”
The Community First slate tried unsuccessfully to knock Toscas and Lind off the April 9 ballot, who are both current sitting trustees on the Crestwood and Chicago Ridge village boards, based on potential conflicts of interest. Toscas also is running for mayor of Crestwood.
Worth Township encompasses the communities of Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Hometown, Chicago Ridge, Worth, Alsip, Merrionette Park and sections of Blue Island, Robbins, Crestwood, Palos Heights and Bridgeview.