Appellate Court Sides With BGA Over Chicago Officials’ Public Communications on Private Accounts

Public officials’ private email and text accounts are subject to disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, the Illinois 1st District Appellate Court ruled on Wednesday, upholding a circuit judge’s ruling in a Better Government Association lawsuit against the city of Chicago.

“Allowing public officials to shield information from the public’s view merely by using their personal accounts rather than their government-issued ones would be anathema to the purposes of FOIA,” according to the opinion written by Justice Cynthia Cobbs.

The BGA sued in 2017 to obtain records that were improperly withheld by the administration of then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Mullen ruled that the city did not conduct a reasonable search for records because its search did not account for emails or texts on employees’ private accounts. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Law Department appealed that ruling.

In 2016, the BGA filed FOIA requests for information on lead testing conducted in Chicago Public Schools after a pilot program found elevated levels in drinking water at a South Side elementary school. The BGA asked for communications among 10 city or schools employees related to “lead and CPS” between April 1, 2016 and June 17, 2016.  (Read more)