Records still kept secret
DIXON – The Department of Corrections not only locks up inmates but also administrative records that the state’s attorney general says should be public.
Over the past year, the department has twice denied requests for the release of grievances filed by Dixon Correctional Center employees.
On May 24, 2011, Dixon prison inmate Tiberius Mays asked, through the state Freedom of Information Act, to see the 15 most recent grievances filed by prison workers. Grievances are generally complaints that employees have with work rules or procedures.
The Department of Corrections denied his request, citing an exemption in the law dealing with adjudication of employee grievances.
Mays appealed the matter to the office of public access counselor, a division of the Illinois attorney general, which determined that such records should be made public. The department ignored the attorney general’s opinion.
This week, the department denied the same request from Sauk Valley Media. This time, however, the agency cited what it called a contrary opinion from the attorney general.
In its denial on June 10, 2011, the department cited a provision in the Freedom of Information Act that, it said, allowed it to keep grievances secret. It was referring to an exemption in the law that covers “records relating to a public body’s adjudication of employee grievances or disciplinary cases; however, this exemption shall not extend to the final outcome of cases in which discipline is imposed.”
In a letter on Aug. 30, 2011, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Rogina disagreed with IDOC’s denial. He said records that were “generated independent of an adjudication such as an employee grievance or complaint against a public employee” would not fall under the exemption.
In its denial letter to Sauk Valley Media, the Department of Corrections cited a July 25 opinion by Senior Assistant Attorney General John Schmidt. In that situation, Pam Brunton, a Chicago-area resident, asked for information related to 12 grievances filed by employees of the state’s Department of Human Services.
Schmidt sided with Human Services, saying it had no obligation to release the requested records.
But Brunton’s request was different from Mays’. She wanted documents related to the adjudication, not the actual grievances – a fact she confirmed during an interview Tuesday.
The attorney general’s opinions aren’t binding.
Mays, who is in prison for attempted murder and armed robbery, frequently has criticized the Dixon prison in letters he has written to the editor of Sauk Valley Media.
In a July 7 letter, he contended the department denied the information because the union for prison employees objected to its release.
He also has asked for salary information of prison employees, which is public information that the state now makes available on the Internet.
“Not only is the Dixon prison union refusing to provide information, union members are talking about me in a negative manner because some feel I have no right to their grievances or salaries,” he wrote in the July 7 letter. “The law states that I can view this information.”
Officials from the union, AFSCME Local 817, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.