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Illinois: Chicago Still Trying To Withhold Ticket Camera Emails
Chicago, Illinois mayor uses private email accounts to hide conversations about controversial photo enforcement program.

David KidwellThe city of Chicago, Illinois is doing everything it can to keep the local newspaper from getting a hold of documents related to the controversial red light camera and speed camera programs. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Kathleen M. Pantle heard motions from city lawyers last week designed to delay the process.

Back in June, Chicago Tribune reporter David Kidwell filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking six months' worth of emails to or from Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) discussing automated ticketing. The request also sought two months' worth of telephone and cell phone call logs in which Emanuel discussed public business. Both requests sought communications made on city-issued and personally owned devices, in accordance with Illinois laws.

For the request covering sixty days of emails, Emanuel provided 139 messages from his official accounts. Sixty-nine of those emails were event invitations and six were "test" messages. The Tribune argued that this suggests Emanuel has been using a personal email account to evade accountability under FOIA.

"During this two month period therefore, the mayor of a major metropolis claims he sent at most 64 potentially substantive emails from his official city accounts, a number that appears surprisingly low, if the mayor is using these official accounts as his only mode of electronic communication," Tribune attorney Natalie J. Spears wrote.

The city refused to comply with the email request, claiming that it would be "unduly burdensome" to produce over 2000 responsive emails. The city's reluctance is understandable considering the Tribune's investigative reporting blew the whistle on the $2 million bribery scheme involving its red light camera vendor, Redflex Traffic Systems of Australia. The Tribune responded by suing the city in September.

"In recent years, Tribune's FOIA requests directed to the office of the mayor have been met with a pattern of non-compliance, partial compliance, delay and obfuscation," Spears wrote. "Contributing to a lack of transparency is the use of personal email accounts and phone lines, rather than government-issued phones and accounts, in conducting government business, which on information and belief Mayor Emanuel does."

The Tribune's court filing compared Emanuel's use of private emails to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server to conduct official business. Emanuel was a top policy aide in the Clinton White House from 1993 to 1998.