Attorney general: DuPage forest preserve should release termination letter

 
 
Updated 10/29/2014 5:29 PM

A copy of the letter that ended Arnie Biondo's brief tenure as executive director of the DuPage County Forest Preserve District should be released to the public, according to the Illinois Attorney General's office.

So far, however, the district hasn't complied with the attorney general's nonbinding request.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sue Olafson, forest preserve spokeswoman, said a decision about the letter won't be made until the district finishes "a comprehensive look" at why the opinion was rendered.

"We believe that it (the letter) is more personnel related," Olafson said. "We're questioning why the letter should be released at all."

Biondo retired Sept. 2 after less than eight months as the district's executive director. He told the Daily Herald he stepped down after receiving an Aug. 4 letter informing him he could either retire early or be terminated without cause.

Lisle resident MaryLynn Zajdel said she wants a copy of that letter, but the district balked.

While some forest preserve commissioners have said Biondo's ouster came because he wasn't moving fast enough on several proposed structural changes to the district, Zajdel said she wants to see the letter to confirm that was why Biondo was let go.

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"The entire process for the termination of the director lacked transparency," Zajdel said. "The letter itself was executed without a board meeting and without a board vote. Getting this (letter) released would shine a light on what happened."

But when Zajdel filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the letter, the district refused to release it.

According to the attorney general's office, the district argues the letter is exempt from disclosure because it's a document "in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated." The district also claims that releasing the letter would constitute an unwarranted invasion of Biondo's privacy.

But in its nonbinding opinion, which was issued last week, the attorney general's office said the exemptions claimed by the district don't apply to the Biondo letter. The document, for example, deals with Biondo's duties as a public official and doesn't contain highly personal information.

"For the reasons set forth above, the district violated the requirements of FOIA by withholding the Biondo letter," Assistant Attorney General Josh Jones wrote. "We direct the district to provide Ms. Zajdel with a copy of the Biondo letter."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Olafson, however, said the law is open for interpretation. "We interpreted it very differently," she said.

Even candidates in next week's forest preserve commission races disagree over whether the district should comply with the attorney general's request.

Incumbent Democratic Commissioner Shannon Burns and her Republican opponent, Al Murphy, both say the letter shouldn't be released because it's a private communication between Biondo and the commission.

Evan Wolfe, who is challenging incumbent Commissioner Marsha Murphy, said the letter should be released because of the attorney general's opinion.

"It would be a good start for more transparency because it sounds like they've mishandled the whole episode pretty badly," the Addison Democrat said. "More disclosure would be better."

Murphy, a Republican, said the district should not release the letter.

If the letter isn't released, Zajdel said she's hoping the attorney general's office will issue a binding opinion. That would force the forest preserve to challenge the release of the Biondo letter in court.

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