How to Make a FOIA Request to the City of Evanston

City of Evanston How to Make FOIA

Illinois policy is that everyone is entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of City government, and the policies and actions of public officials and City staff. The City government is required to operate openly and provide records quickly. (5 ILCS 140/1.2)

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Make a Request | Who Can Request? | What Can I Request? | How Long does it Take? | How Many Requests Can I Make? | Is it Free? | No Response? | Denial Exceptions | What if I’m Denied? | Who Releases Records?

How to Make a FOIA Request

Sample FOIA Request Form Evanston
Sample FOIA Request Form from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office

Making a FOIA request is quick and easy, especially if you submit it online. (5 ILCS 140/3)(c)

 ONLINE 

Submit your request to Evanston FOIA NextRequest System

 EMAIL 

Email request to FOIA@cityofevanston.org

 MAIL 

City of Evanston

Attn: FOIA Officer

2100 Ridge Avenue Evanston, IL

60201

 IN PERSON 

Drop off your request at the Clerk’s Office Monday to Thursday (8:30am – 7:00pm), and Friday (8:30am – 5:00pm). It’s best to have it in writing, but in some cases, the Clerk’s Office will accept a detailed verbal request.

Who Can Make a Request?

Any person, business, organization or agency—requesting as an individual or as a group.

What Information Can I Request?

(5 ILCS 140/2) You can request any recorded information, documents, electronic communications, or other materials that: Concern any City business ● Were prepared by or for the City ● Were used or will be used by the City ● Were received by the City ● Are in the possession of the City ● or are under the control of the City ● See Exceptions

Including, but not limited to: Reports, Recordings, Emails, Papers, Forms, Writings, Letters, Memoranda, Maps, Photographs, Microfilms, Tapes, etc.

Funding/Financial Records: All records relating to the obligation, receipt and/or use of public finds of the City or School Districts (5 ILCS 140/2.5).

Payroll Information: The City may black out (redact) private addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers (5 ILCS 140/2.10).

Severance Agreements

Court Settlements (5 ILCS 140/2.20)

Criminal History Records

Public Court Records

Arrest Reports: Including the person’s name, age, address and photograph (if available), Information about the charges brought, Time and location of the arrest, Name of the investigating and arresting law enforcement agency, If the person is/was incarcerated, Amount of bail or bond, Time and dates of incarceration, discharge or transfer from custody. (See Exceptions for Juveniles & Interference(5 ILCS 140/2.15)

How Long Until I Get an Answer?

The City must respond within 5 business days, beginning the day after you submit your request (or the day after you pay, if the City is allowed to charge you). (5 ILCS 140/3)(d), either releasing your records; denying your request; extending 5 business days; notifying you that you are a “Recurrent Requester, or notifying you that it’s a “Voluminous Request(5 ILCS 140/3.2)(b).

Arrest reports and criminal history information kept by the City, County or State must be released within 72 hours after the arrest, regardless of the above time standards and extensions.(5 ILCS 140/2.15)(a)

When Can the City Extend its Deadline?

The City is only allowed to extend a deadline 5 additional business days, and only if it notifies you in writing which exception it’s using, (see below), when (within the extended 5 business days) you will receive your request. If the City doesn’t respond to your request within the first 5 days after you submitted your request, it can’t charge you for the records later. (5 ILCS 140/3)(f)

If the City extends the deadline, but doesn’t provide your records within the following 5 days, then it cannot deny your request later as “unduly burdensome.” (5 ILCS 140/3)(f) See Denials

Allowable Reasons for Extension Include:

  • Some or all of the records from your request are stored outside of the Civic Center (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(i); or
  • You requested a lot of specific records that the City has to spend time finding (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(ii) ; or
  • Your request is very specific and requires extensive search (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(iii); or
  • The City hasn’t been able to find your requested records the usual ways and need more time to locate them (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(iv); or
  • The City needs more time so that the appropriate staff to review the records to see what, if anything, should be withheld (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(v); or
  • The City needs to extend because the search and/or review your documents would take so much time it will interrupt the City’s normal operations (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(vi); or
  • Your request concerns another public body with which the City needs to consult (5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(vii)(5 ILCS 140/3)(e)(vii); or
  • If you and the City agree in writing to extend the deadline (5 ILCS 140/3)(e).

How Many Requests Can I Make?

There’s not a limit exactly, but you may face some penalties if you request too often, too many documents or if you’re requesting for a “commercial purpose.” (5 ILCS 140/3)(i)

News Media & Nonprofits Neither “Recurrent Requestor” nor “Voluminous Request” restrictions can be applied to news media or non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations if the main purpose of the requests are to either share news, events, opinion articles or public interest stories with the public; or for academic, scientific, public research or education purposes. (5 ILCS 140/2)(g)

If you are a “Recurrent Requester,” the City can take longer to provide or deny your records (5 ILCS 140/3.2)(a). However, the City must still must notify you within the first 5 days to tell you why it’s using the 21-day deadline (must be an allowable reason – see below). (5 ILCS 140/3.2)(b)

You may be considered a “Recurrent Requester” if you have submitted at least:

  • 50 requests within the last 12 months; or if you
  • 15 requests within any 30-day period in the last 12 months;
  • 7 requests within any 7-day period in the last 12 months.
  • *A single request asking for multiple records can only be counted as 1 request.

If you are a Recurrent Requester, the City must, within 21 days, provide your records or notify you with:

  • The estimated time, within a reasonable time frame, of when you can expect to receive your request and how much you’ll be charged in fees (if allowable); or
  • Deny your request (see reasons for denials and notification requirements); or
  • Statement that your request is “unduly burdensome” and give you the chance to try to reduce the records you are requesting. (5 ILCS 140/3.2)(a)(c)

Your request(s) may be considered a “voluminous request” if:

  • You are requesting more than 5 different categories of records (ex. Financial reports, legal documents, emails, recordings, etc.) within a single request or within the past 20 business days;
  • Your request requires more than 500 pages of different records. However, a single record that has more than 500 pages cannot be considered voluminous. (5 ILCS 140/2)(h)

If you have a Voluminous request, the City still must respond within 5 business days, starting the day after you first submit, to notify you that:

  • You have a voluminous request and state the reason why; and
  • That you must respond within 10 business days after the notification to either change the request so that it won’t be considered voluminous; and
  • That the City must respond within 5 business days after you send your response to either give you your records, deny the records, or extend up to 10 additional business days.
  • That if you don’t respond with 10 business days, or that it’s still too large, that the City can charge you for your request. (5 ILCS 140/3.6)(a)-(d)

The City considers your request as being for a “Commercial Purpose” if you will use the information to sell or advertise sales or services. Commercial purpose does not apply to news media, nonprofits, or scientific or academic organizations if the main purpose of the request is to share information to the public as news, current events, opinion pieces, interest features or for the purpose of academic, scientific, or public research or education.(5 ILCS 140/2)(c-10)

Is It Free to Make a Request?

Most records are free, but there are some exceptions (see below). If you are charged a fee, the City must give you an accounting of all fees, costs, and staffing hours. (5 ILCS 140/6)(a-5)

The City cannot charge you for:

  • PDFs or other electronic documents that aren’t Voluminous Requests (5 ILCS 140/6)(a); or for
  • The first 50 pages of black-and-white paper copies that aren’t Voluminous Requests (5 ILCS 140/6)(b); or for
  • Time spent searching for, reviewing or copying records unless you have a “Voluminous Requests” or your request is for a commercial (for-profit) purpose.(5 ILCS 140/6)(a)
  • Records requested by news media or by non-profit, scientific, or academic organizations if the main purpose of the requests are to either share news, events, opinion articles or public interest stories with the public; or for academic, scientific, public research or education purposes (5 ILCS 140/2)(g).

If you have to pay for your request, then the City must release them within 5 business days, or up to 10 business days if they give an allowable reason to extend (5 ILCS 140/3)(b). The City cannot charge you and deny your request. It also cannot charge you if it didn’t respond to your request within the first 5 days after you submitted it (5 ILCS 140/3)(f).

If the City has your requested records as a digital file attachment or other electronic format, it must give it to you that way, if feasible. Otherwise, the City can give it to you in whatever format it’s already in, or in paper form if you prefer a hardcopy. (5 ILCS 140/6)(a)

If you have a Voluminous Request for electronic PDF documents, the City can charge you up to $20 for 80mb of data, $40 for up to 160mb, and up to $100 for more than 160mb. If your records are not in PDF form, the City can charge you up to $20 for 2mb of data, $40 for up to 4mb, and up to $100 for more than 4mb. If some records are PDFs, and others aren’t, the City can charge you separately using both fee scales. (5 ILCS 140/6)(a-5)

For paper copies, the City cannot charge you for the first 50 black-and-white pages, and not more than 15 cents per black-and-white page (legal or letter size) after. For color copies, or pages in other sizes, the City may not charge you more than the actual cost for copying the records. (5 ILCS 140/6)(b)

The City must provide documents for free, or at a reduced charge, if you specify a primarily public interest purpose to share information regarding the health, safety and welfare or the legal rights of the general public, and that it’s not for a commercial (profit) benefit. A commercial benefit does not apply to the news media when working for the above primary purpose. (5 ILCS 140/6)(c)

If the City tries to charge you in ways that aren’t allowed, you can treat the request as a denial of access to public records for judicial review.

(5 ILCS 140/6)(b) Except when a fee is otherwise fixed by statute, each public body may charge fees reasonably calculated to reimburse its actual cost for reproducing and certifying public records and for the use, by any person, of the equipment of the public body to copy records. (5 ILCS 140/6)(d)

If you are not knowledgeable about computer language or printout format and indicate this to the City, it must give you a description of these formats. (5 ILCS 140/5)

What If I Didn’t Get a Response?

If the City doesn’t respond within the first 5 business days, you can follow up with the City through the online FOIA system, by email, by phone or in person at the Clerk’s Office. The State considers requests not responded to within that window as having been denied, allowing you to request the State investigate it.(5 ILCS 140/3)(f)

If the City does not respond within the first 5 business days, it is prohibited from:

  • Charging you for any records from that request when/if they provide them,
  • Treating your request as “Unduly Burdensome(5 ILCS 140/3)(f)

When Can the City Deny My Request?

All of the government’s records are to be made available upon request, with some exceptions.

And even if the City denies your request in part or whole, they are still required to:

  • Notify you of the denial within the 5-10 business day period; and (5 ILCS 140/9)(c)
  • Give you whatever portion of a document(s) that isn’t exempt, and only redact (delete, black out, etc.) the exempt information. (5 ILCS 140/7)(1)
  • State the reasons why (in writing) that any portion of your request is being denied, including a detailed factual basis why the stated exemption applies, and a citation to supporting legal authority. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)(b)
  • List the names and titles of every person involved in the denial. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)
  • Notify you of your rights to have the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor review the denial on your behalf, and your rights to injunctive relief under FOIA’s Section 11. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)

Allowable Exemptions Include:

(5 ILCS 140/3)(g) If the request would take so much work to prepare (would be “unduly burdensome”), the City can deny your request, but only if:

  • There’s no way to narrow the request, and
  • The burden on the City outweighs the public interest in the information, and
  • The City give you an opportunity to reduce the request to smaller, manageable proportions, and
  • The City specifies the reasons why and describes how giving you the information would be “unduly burdensome” for the operation of the City.
  • If you keep making the same requests for the same information that has already been properly given or denied to you.

(5 ILCS 140/8.5)(a)(b) Information that is published on the City’s website, but the City does have to tell you were to find the information, and if you’re unable to access it, you can resubmit your request and the City must provide the information

(5 ILCS 140/2.15)(c) Arrest reports and criminal history records if disclosing the information would  interfere with pending proceedings, endanger someone’s life or safety, compromise the security of a correctional facility.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(a) Information prohibited from public disclosure by federal or state laws.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(b) Private information, like social security and driver’s license numbers; personal telephone numbers and personal e-mail addresses; home addresses; personal financial information; passwords or other access codes; medical records.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(c) Personal information in public records that would allow an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information. This exception does not include information concerning the public duties of public officials or employees.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(d) Law & Administrative Enforcement records (ex. police investigations by police, or investigations of employee misconduct by the City), but only if release of the information would:

  • Interfere with pending enforcement proceedings; would be likely to deprive someone of a fair trial or an impartial hearing; or
  • Likely reveal a confidential source; or
  • Reveal specialized investigative techniques or correctional agencies’ internal documents about crime that would cause “demonstrable harm;” or
  • Endanger someone’s life; or
  • Obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(e) Records related to or affecting the security of correctional and detention facilities.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(f) Preliminary drafts, notes, and similar records that express a person’s opinion or formulation of a policy, unless the head of a public body publicly refers to and identifies the record.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(g) Proprietary, confidential, or privileged trade secrets, commercial information, or financial information obtained from an individual or business, if disclosure would cause competitive harm, and only insofar as the claim directly applies to the records requested. This includes public pension funds from a private equity fund.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(h) Proposals and bids for contracts, grants, or agreements, or information the City is preparing to solicit bids, until a final selection is made.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(i) Formulas, computer geographic systems, designs, drawings and research data if release of the information would be for private gain or public loss.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(j) School exam information, course materials, and faculty evaluation criteria, or disciplinary information that would unavoidably reveal a student; faculty members’ course materials or research materials.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(k) Architectural plans and technical documents for construction projects not publicly funded; or for publicly funded construction projects that would present security risk if released (ex. power generator and distribution facilities; water treatment plants; sports stadiums, and all buildings owned, operated, or occupied by the government).

(5 ILCS 140/7)(l) Closed meeting minutes. The City must review closed meeting minutes semi-annually to determine what must continue to be exempt, and release minutes that do not. Minutes that are no longer considered closed are no longer exempt to the public.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(m) Communications between the City and its attorney or an internal auditor may be exempt if no disclosures of those communications were made to a third party. For communications between the City and its attorney, they must have been specifically for the purpose of securing legal advice and include litigation plans, theories or mental impressions. Records may also be exempt if they were prepared by the City in anticipation of a criminal, civil or administrative proceeding upon the request of the City attorney, or if they were prepared for the City’s internal audits.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(n) Records of City’s handling of employee grievances or discipline, except that the City must release final decisions in cases that resulted in disciplinary action.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(o) Administrative or technical information related to automated data processing operations (like user guides, employee manuals, or other information that would “jeopardize the security of the system or its data” or the security of other exempt materials).

(5 ILCS 140/7)(p) Collective bargaining records between the City and its staff or representatives. Except that the City must release final contracts and agreements.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(q) License and employment testing and evaluation information used to determine qualifications. (like test questions or scoring keys).

(5 ILCS 140/7)(r) Records of ongoing negotiations of the City’s sale or purchase of real estate. Except after negotiations end—whether they’re completed or terminated.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(s) Proprietary information regarding City insurance, claims and loss/risk management records.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(t) Records the City uses to regulate or supervise financial institutions or insurance companies (such as the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation), unless state law requires release of the information.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(u) Records that would disclose Electronic Signatures or private keys.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(v) Vulnerability assessments, security measures and response plans related to potential attacks in Evanston, but only if release of the records would reasonably would threaten effectiveness of the plan, public health or safety if released, such as deployment details, operation of communication systems or tactical operations.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(x) Maps and records regarding the location or security of generation, transmission, distribution, storage, gathering, treatment, or switching facilities owned by a utility, a power generator, or the Illinois Power Agency.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(y) Information regarding proposals, bids or negations related to electric power procurement that is deemed confidential and proprietary by the Illinois Commerce Commission or the Illinois Power Agency.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(z) Information about undergraduate students exempted from disclosure under Section 25 of the Illinois Credit Card Marketing Act of 2009.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(aa) Information about Viatical Settlements (sales of a policy owner’s existing life insurance policy to a third party)

(5 ILCS 140/7)(bb) Records maintained by a mortality review team appointed under the Department of Juvenile Justice Mortality Review Team Act.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(cc) Information about burial sites of human remains submitted to the Cemetery Oversight Database.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(dd) Records exempted through Section 11-9 of the Illinois Public Aid Code or that pertain to appeals under Section 11-8 of the Illinois Public Aid Code.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(ee) Personal information of minors registered in programs of park districts, forest preserve districts, conservation districts, recreation agencies, and special recreation associations.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(ff) Personal information of participants and registrants in programs of park districts, forest preserve districts, conservation districts, recreation agencies, and special recreation associations targeted primarily to minors.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(gg) Illinois Independent Tax Tribunal Act of 2012 confidential information described in Section 1-100.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(hh) Reports submitted to the State Board of Education by the School Security and Standards Task Force under item (8) of subsection (d) of Section 2-3.160 of the School Code

(5 ILCS 140/7)(ii) Records requested by persons committed to or detained by the Department of Human Services under the Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act or committed to the Department of Corrections under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act, under certain conditions.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(jj) Confidential information from 5-535 of the Civil Administrative Code of Illinois

(5 ILCS 140/7)(1.5) Information exempt from disclosure under the Judicial Privacy Act.

(5 ILCS 140/7)(2) Public records in that the City has given to an agency it contracted with to perform a government function for the City (but the City must provide the name of the agency so you can then request from them).

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(a) Trade Secrets.

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(b) Individual library users’ circulation and order records (ex. Books/materials checked out).

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(c) Organ Transplant Documents.

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(d) Department of Public Health information about STDs, unless the information would be disclosed for statistical purposes and summarized in a non-identifying way.

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(e) Radon Testing exempt information

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(f) State agencies’ evaluations of contractually hired architects and engineers

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(g) Illinois’ Prepaid Tuition program records

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(h) Alleged Ethical Misconduct by State Employees

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(i) Local Emergency Energy Plan peak power demand information

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(j) Wireless Carrier Surcharges

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(k) Police/Driver IDs in racial profiling studies

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(l) Reviews of Nursing Home Sexual Assaults or Deaths

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(m) Predatory Lending Database

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(n) Defense Expenses for Death Penalty Cases

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(o) Cancer Collection Data

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(p) Public Transit Security

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(q) Personnel Records

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(r) Student School Records

(5 ILCS 140/7.5)(s) Certain ICC/Utility Company Information

What Can I Do if My Request is Denied?

Sample FOIA Request for Review Form for Evanston
Sample FOIA Request for Review Form from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office

Your Right to Request State Review (No Cost)

If you believe the City has improperly denied your FOIA request, you have 60 days from the date of the denial to request the State Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor investigate the case at no cost to you. (5 ILCS 140/9.5)(a).

Make your request in writing, and include a summary of the facts supporting the allegation, and be sure to sign it. Need help? We can help (click here).

 EMAIL 

Email request to publicaccess@atg.state.il.us

 MAIL 

Attn: Public Access Counselor

Office of the Attorney General

500 S. 2nd Street

Springfield, Illinois 62701

If the City denies your request in part or whole, they are still required to:

  • Notify you of the denial within the 5-10 business day period (5 ILCS 140/9)(c)
  • Give you whatever portion of a document(s) that isn’t exempt, and only redact (delete, black out, etc.) the exempt information. (5 ILCS 140/7)(1)
  • State the reasons why (in writing) that any portion of your request is being denied, including a detailed factual basis why the stated exemption applies, and a citation to supporting legal authority. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)(b)
  • List the names and titles of every person involved in the denial. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)
  • Notify you of your rights to have the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor review the denial on your behalf, and your rights to injunctive relief under FOIA’s Section 11. (5 ILCS 140/9)(a)

What Happens During a Request for Review

The Public Access Counselor (PAC) will review your request, and if it feels it warrants further action, it will send a letter to the City (within 7 business days) with your request to notify them of the review. The City then has 7 business days to provide the Counselor with the records requested, and if not, the Attorney General may issue a subpoena for them. (5 ILCS 140/9.5)(c)

The Counselor will then issue a determination (within 60 days of your request, or up to 90 days if it requires and extension) to you and the City. The Counselor may also choose to resolve the request by mediation between you and the City. (5 ILCS 140/9.5)(f)

If the Counselor determines the City must release the records, it has up to 35 days to provide them to you.

Who’s In Charge of Releasing Records?

The City’s FOIA officer is currently the City Clerk. It is this officer’s responsibility to receive your requests and ensure the City responds within the time periods set. (5 ILCS 140/3.5)(a)

Official FOIA Links

City of Evanston FOIA FAQ page

How to Submit a Request for Review to a Public Access Counselor (Attorney General’s Office)

Sample FOIA Request Form Evanston
Sample FOIA Request Form from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office
Sample FOIA Request for Review Form for Evanston
Sample FOIA Request for Review Form from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office

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