Updated 10/15/17. The last issue of the RoundTable, Oct. 5, contained an article “City Clerk Struggles; Council Removes Some of His Duties.” The article was posted online, updated, and the headline was changed to “City Council Votes to Temporarily Take Down City’s Next Request System.”
The article, as appearing in the RoundTable’s print edition and initially in the online paper, reported on mailings by City Clerk Devon Reid’s office. It stated in part:
“One duty performed by the Clerk’s office until the end of September was the processing of all incoming and outgoing mail. Because of a number of issues in the past several months, the Clerk’s office no longer handles mail. One such mistake cost the City $76,000 in State funding for health department inspection operations, according to both Clerk Reid and City staff.
“Clerk Reid told the RoundTable, “There was a grant that was sent out by certified mail and an issue that – what we know is that it was either over posted or under posted. … It was sent out, again, by certified mail. … Apparently because of the issue of it not getting delivered, there may have been a grant opportunity that was missed.
“’Yes, the mail was sent out of the office, but again it was sent by certified mail, so the office that sent it has the ability to track it. I presume that if you notice that it was out for a month, I think you should have raised a flag. With your tracking of certified mail,’ said Clerk Reid.
“’How would we track it?’ said Director Thomas-Smith. ‘We don’t get a tracking label from him.’
“Director Thomas-Smith was more direct about the lost grant. ‘We lost the funding, but we still have to perform the inspection services,’ she said. ‘We are required as a health department to conduct the food service inspections,’ and the Illinois Department of Public Health reimburses the City. All the City has to do is send in a signed contract – it is a non-competitive, automatic grant.
“The health department provided the contract to the Clerk’s office to be sent out via certified mail. The letter went, 16 cents short on postage, was returned, and went out a second time without the 16 cents added, said Director Thomas-Smith, who still has the envelope. Later, the Health department ‘got notice the State never received the contract and reallocated the money.’”
On Oct. 10, Clerk Reid told the RoundTable that the foregoing section of the article was incorrect in its reporting about a $76,000 grant opportunity from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for health department inspections.
The article accurately quoted statements made to the RoundTable by Clerk Reid and by Director Thomas-Smith on this issue. When the RoundTable followed up with Ms. Thomas-Smith on Oct. 10, she initially confirmed what was reported in the article. Later that same day, after further review, she told the RoundTable the grant request was for a Vector Control Grant in the amount of $10,000. She said the City’s health department provided a contract for the grant to the Clerk’s office to be sent out via certified mail. She said the mailing was returned more than one time, the last time due to insufficient postage. She said she was advised by email on Sept. 18 that the Illinois Department of Public Health did not receive the contract; and on Sept. 18, the City resubmitted the contract.
On Oct. 11, IDPH told the RoundTable that IDPH signed the contract on Sept. 22. Thus, there should be no loss to the City due to any delay in delivery of the contract to IDPH.
Ms. Thomas-Smith said the Vector Control Grant was being processed at the same time as a Local Health Protection Grant for $76,000.
On Oct. 12, in light of this new information, all references to mailings in the online article were deleted.
Clerk Reid told the RoundTable the headline to the article was inaccurate. The headline, which was not prepared by the author of the article, stated in part, “Council Removes Some of His Duties.” As summarized in the article, City Council passed a motion made by Alderman Don Wilson on Sept. 25. That motion was: “That the City staff, for the moment, remove the Next Request system from public view until the materials can be reviewed by the Law Department to ensure that there’s no private information remaining, that we set a policy effective immediately that police reports produced as part of FOIA inquiry are available only to the requesting party, and that we schedule this at the next Rules Committee for the discussion of implementing specific polices for use of the Next Request system. I’d also like to make a reference, adopt Alderman [Judy] Fiske’s reference, that we designate an FOIA Officer.” The motion passed, 6-2.
That is the only action taken by City Council that, in the RoundTable’s view, removes, alters, or limits some of Clerk Reid's duties, functions or authority. The original headline was changed on Oct. 11 to "City Council Votes to Temporarily Take Down Next Request System."
Next Request System
Clerk Reid told the RoundTable on Oct. 10 that he disputes Alderman Wilson’s statement at the Sept. 25 meeting that he (Ald. Wilson) looked at the Next Request system and noticed “multiple sexual assault victims identified.” Ald. Wilson’s statement at the Sept. 25 Council meeting was accurately quoted in the article.
Clerk Reid told the RoundTable there was only one instance in which a sexual assault was identified on the Next Request system and that he immediately removed the police report that contained the reference to the sexual assault when he learned about it on Sept. 14. Ald. Wilson told the RoundTable that he told Clerk Reid about this incident and that the police report referring to the sexual assault was taken off the system on Sept. 14, but he said he subsequently saw that the name of the woman remained on the system.
When asked about his reference to “multiple sexual abuse victims,” Ald. Wilson told the RoundTable that he saw an FOIA request for a police report relating to an alleged assault and the request included the name and other identifying information of the alleged assailant. He said there was not a reference to a sexual assault in the request, but there was a reference to an alleged assault, and he has information that the woman was an alleged sexual assault victim. The request was posted in the Next Request System and could be seen by the alleged assailant and others. The response to the FOIA request that was posted on the Next Request System did not post the police report or refer to a sexual assault, but it contained an identifier of a pdf that provided the victim’s name, he said.
At the Sept. 25 City Council meeting, Clerk Reid said he had spent the weekend and also the prior Friday going through every FOIA request since he had taken office, and even prior to that, that was assigned to the police department and removed any request that included someone’s name.
Ald. Wilson told the RoundTable he talked to Clerk Reid and believes they can work out the issues related to FOIA and the Next Request issues.
The article said the City has removed the processing of real estate transfer stamps and passport applications and mail duties from the Clerk’s office. Clerk Reid said this was done by mutual agreement.