How Wheeling says a resident cost taxpayers $144,000

Did Wheeling really spend more than $144,000 to supply a resident with documents she'd requested under the Freedom of Information Act? Or is the village using big cost estimates to deter her requests?

That's the focus of the latest squabble between the village and Deborah Wilson, who often attends meetings to criticize board members.

According to a letter signed and published by the village board in late June, Wilson has sent about 1,000 emails and filed more than 50 public records requests since October. Responding has cost taxpayers $144,000, the village states.

In a public records request, the Daily Herald asked for documentation to support claims in the letter. Here's an analysis of the numbers provided by the village.

By the numbers

• $144,281.16: This cost to taxpayers was partially calculated by asking a dozen employees to estimate the time they've spent on Wilson's public records requests.

For example, Village Manager Jon Sfondilis estimated since October he devoted 294 hours to dealing with issues raised by Wilson - more than seven weeks of full-time work - at a rate of almost $95 per hour for a total cost to taxpayers of $27,891. Because employees worked on Wilson's requests during normal work hours, there was no out-of-pocket cost to the village for their work.

However, the legal expenses for the village's law firm, Klein, Thorpe and Jenkins, totaled $58,586. The firm's attorneys charge a minimum of $190 per hour. The law firm reviews public records requests only when they warrant legal review, Sfondilis said.

• 1,016 emails: Since Oct. 1, the village has received 1,016 emails from Wilson. To get this number, the village counted every recipient on an email, officials said. For example, if Wilson sent an email to 20 recipients, the village counted that as 20 emails.

• 52 public record requests: Wilson sent this many requests, but she retracted seven before the village worked on them, leaving a total of 45. Within these requests, she has asked for 168 records.

The requests ranged from documents about former Village President Dean Argiris' use of a taxpayer-funded credit card to viewing surveillance video of herself leaving village hall after a meeting. The requests regarding Argiris' spending brought to light lax accounting that led to changes in the village's internal policies.

• 13: The number of times Wilson asked the Illinois Attorney's General Office to review responses and possible Open Meetings Act violations. The office sided with her in one case.

Too many requests?

In the letter, Wheeling officials write they are committed to transparency but argued Wilson's actions are disrupting village work. They called her comments malicious.

"At a time when the financial demands placed on local governments is greater than any other point in history, our village simply can't afford to allow one individual to single-handedly hijack important resources," the letter states.

The letter asks Wilson to "end her efforts to selfishly squander village resources" and vows to stop her from disrupting village business, including "the use of any legal remedies available to us."

Wilson has said her actions are aimed at keeping village government honest and accountable.

And Ben Silver, an attorney for the Citizen Advocacy Center, an Elmhurst nonprofit community legal organization, said the village's numbers seem inflated.

"For them to say it's added up to all that money, it stretches my imagination where someone would be able to do that under the law," he said. "The hours just sound outrageous."

Transparency advocates weigh in on a Wheeling resident's FOIA requests

Wheeling Village Manager Jon Sfondilis
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