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Local News

Fire district accused of violating FOIA law a no-show for court hearing

Attorney for watchdog group: 'Lawsuits can't be ignored'

Kendall County Courthouse, 807 John St. in Yorkville.
Kendall County Courthouse, 807 John St. in Yorkville.

YORKVILLE – A local fire protection district accused of violating the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, by a donation-driven downstate watchdog group did not show up for court on Thursday, Sept. 12.

The update comes after Edgar County Watchdogs filed a complaint through their lawyer on June 14, alleging the Lisbon Seward Fire Protection District knowingly and willfully violated FOIA by not providing requested documents in accordance to the law, according to Kendall County court records.

Denise Ambroziak, lawyer for Edgar County Watchdogs, said the fire protection district was served in late June and an affidavit of service, or a legal receipt of the sent lawsuit, was filed on Aug. 19. On top of the FOIA documents allegedly not being provided, she said, it's frustrating that the fire protection district didn't show up for the cases's hearing on Thursday, Sept. 12 at Kendall County Courthouse.

"We need them to respond," Ambroziak said. "Lawsuits can't be ignored."

As of 11:45 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, there was no listed defense attorney for the fire protection district in this case within Kendall County court documents.

Tom Fletcher, a board trustee for the fire protection district, said Thursday, Sept. 12, the Ingemunson Ltd. Law Offices is representing the fire district and deferred comment regarding the pending litigation to them. He declined additional comment to Record Newspapers.

Gregg Ingemunson, one of the lawyers through Ingemunson Ltd. Law Offices, did not immediately return a request for comment from Record Newspapers on Thursday, Sept. 12.

The watchdog group argued in the complaint the fire district failed to comply by not responding within five business days of each of the two FOIA requests, and the inaction from the first request implies a denial of request of records that were not exempt from being subject to the law. The requested documents included bank and credit card statements, audits, meeting minutes where the board appointed or contracted with a fire chief of the district, contractual obligations of the fire district and FOIA officer training certificates, according to court records.

According to the complaint, the fire district did not respond to an initial FOIA request sent to two email addresses said to be affiliated with the fire district on Aug. 5, 2018. The watchdog group said in the complaint ReadNotify receipts show the email from one address was opened twice by one reader and the email to another address was forwarded to another person and opened eight times total by two readers. The complaint also said the group filed another FOIA request on Sept. 10, 2018, which was sent via certified mail.

The fire protection district covers about 65 square miles, including most of Lisbon Township and portions of Big Grove, Na-Au-Say and Seward townships. The district has two stations in Plattville and Lisbon, respectively, along with two fire chiefs, Tim Wallace and Patrick Pope.

The continuation date for the case has yet to be determined.

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