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Evanston aldermen voted this week to consider replacing City Clerk Devon Reid as the city’s Freedom of Information Act officer after a controversy arose over public release of confidential information.

The issue was raised by Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who complained that in at least one instance the name of a sexual assault victim and in another case the name of an arrested juvenile had been posted on the Next Request website launched last year to handle FOIA requests.

Wilson also said Reid hadn’t immediately acted to remove the confidential information when he brought the issue to the clerk’s attention.

Reid says he did address the issue with the sexual assault victim and that the incident involving the juvenile was the widely reported case of Iain Bady, whose father brought him to a City Council meeting to speak publicly about his bicycle-related arrest.

The Next Request system, which now has been taken down temporarily at the direction of the aldermen, makes it possible for residents to make FOIA requests online, have the city’s responses delivered online and have those requests and responses visible to anyone.

That enhances government transparency, a stated goal of the city, but under the state’s FOIA law, government agencies are only required to disclose FOIA’d information to the person making the request.

Wilson said he was concerned that residents may not be aware that their requests are going to be made public, and even show up in Google searches.

“FOIAs should continue to be responded to,” Wilson said, “but responses should go to the person making the request — not to everybody in the world.”

But Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said, “We are in an age of transparency, and generally people should be able to access the information.”

On Wilson’s motion the aldermen voted 6-2 to discuss the issue of who should be the city’s FOIA officer and the Next Request system at the next Rules Committee meeting.

Reid argues that it’s an advantage to citizens to have an independent, elected official like him as the FOIA officer, rather than any city employee, who ultimately has to report to the city manager.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. Thank you

    Thank you Alderman Wilson. You are absolutely correct. It is terrible to victimize a sexual assault victim again and put their name out for everyone to see. I would be mortified. Not even an apology from Mr. Reid?

    I am not an attorney but just because a parent chooses to name their child in public doesn’t mean it is ok for the government to do so.

    I think it is more important to have a professional FOIA officer than a novice with no experience. Can someone please FOIA Mr Reid’s training and certification to be a qualified FOIA officer with the State of Illinois. So if Mr Reid is a separate entity from the City, who is going to cover the damages when the sex assault victim sues?

  2. Era of transparency?

    Where have all the police mug shots gone? Why are they no longer provided in press releases? Maybe the city only wants transparency for some things while trying to hide others. Sounds like a biased agenda to me.

    1. mug shots elsewhere

      Skokie posts them…other suburbs do, and on all the Patch info as well…….someone should check that out.

        1. citizens

          And that’s the conundrum. …and I don’t think it will ever change.  Evanston’s majority of citizens are indeed a strange bunch..with convoluted opinions.   Too bad……

  3. Make a few improvements and move on

    I’m in favor of transparency, of reinstating the Next Request system, some tweaks to prevent juveniles from being identified publicly, and providing whatever training is necessary to make Devon Reid a fully capable on continuing his FOIA role. 

    1. Newly elected officials — give some time

      I second John Brzezinski’s suggestion.

      I believe that newly elected officials deserve some time to learn the ropes and make some mistakes.   This includes first-time aldermen, the current mayor, and the current city clerk.  Two months into office the newly elected mayor made a major mistake (caling an “emergency” meeting for a non-bona fide emergency) and was officially and rightfully censured by the State of Illinois Attorney General.  But no one has called for his resignation or suggested circumscribing the traditional roles of an Evanston mayor based on that very public mistake (which negatively impacted every official and every concerned citizen in Evanston for an extended period of time).  

      Devon Reid ran on a reformist and modernizing platform and won by a very large margin.  I think he and the new City Clerk’s office that he envisions (and that we voted for) deserve some time and pro-active support in manifesting that vision.   Yes, mistakes have to be acknowledged and corrected no matter when they happen or by whom.  But the operations of the City Clerk’s office and the people of Evanston would be better served by official teamwork, mutual support, and mentoring (if appropriate).

      1. Clerk Comments

        Thanks you, Ms. Hillman.   You brought up valid points…even the city manager has made errors…after 8 years! (budget, anyone?)   Any employee, new or old can make mistakes, misjudgments, etc..or just needs to learn from experience.   I had a wonderful encounter with Mr. Reid a few weeks ago, and was totally taken aback by his courtesy, wonderful personality, and making sure that he helped me directly with my issue.  I was VERY impressed with his demeanor.    It’s a nice change of pace to deal with people like that…for a change. Thank you Mr. Reid.

  4. Devon Reed

    Devon Reed is an embarrassment to himself and to Evanston.  His conduct at the council meeting was shameful. He may have again violated the law by posting the name of a juvenile.  City council should remove all duties from the clerk;s office until Reed resigns or is defeated in the next election.

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