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Watchdog group sues township

September 30, 2018

WILMINGTON — A watchdog group has sued Wilmington-based Wesley Township for failing to respond to an open records request for financial records.

On Aug. 2, the Edgar County Watchdogs filed the request for documents. Later that day, the clerk emailed the group back, saying, “I am out of town for the next few weeks. I will look into it as soon as I get home.”

Under the state’s open records law, a government body is supposed to respond to a request within five business days, but it can seek an extension as long as it gives the reasons.

State law doesn’t allow a public body to delay a request because an official is away from the office.

On Aug. 6, three business days after clerk Sarah Norton’s email, Wesley Township Supervisor JoAnn Quigley “respectfully” requested a 10-day extension.

That same day, Kirk Allen, a co-founder of the Southern Illinois-based Edgar County Watchdogs, said he would not agree to an extension. He told the township to comply with the records law or “be prepared to deal with this matter in the circuit court.”

On Aug. 16, he sent an email to township officials, saying the records were past due and requesting they provide them immediately to avoid litigation.

According to the lawsuit, the township never again responded, not even after the township’s extended deadlines.

Neither Norton nor Quigley could be reached for immediate comment.

The group is seeking such documents as bank receipts for park fees, the most recent budget, the last two contracts with a township organization and a copy of the bond for the township supervisor.

Under state law, there are virtually no exceptions that allow a public body to keep financial records secret.

The lawsuit was filed in Will County Circuit Court, nearly seven weeks after the group filed the records request.

In July, Wesley Township resident Cynthia Brzana submitted a public records request to the township for financial records. But she didn’t hear from the township until two weeks later, when Norton told her in an email she would handle the request after she returned in a few weeks.

In an interview in August, Quigley told the Daily Journal that Norton, who was appointed to her position in June, was learning her job. Quigley said others in the township were handling records requests while Norton was gone.

In Illinois, townships’ three mandated duties are maintaining roads, assessing properties and distributing general assistance to the poor.

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