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People Ex Rel. Recktenwald v. Janura

OPINION FILED APRIL 6, 1978.

THE PEOPLE EX REL. WILLIAM A. RECKTENWALD, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

ARTHUR L. JANURA, GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT OF THE FOREST PRESERVE DISTRICT OF COOK COUNTY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RAYMOND K. BERG, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE ROMITI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The relator, William Recktenwald, is a resident and taxpayer of Cook County, Illinois, and is employed as chief investigator for the Better Government Association. In his petition he sought a writ of mandamus to compel Arthur Janura, general superintendent of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, to grant him access to records showing the names and total compensation paid to all persons employed by the District in 1974. Following a hearing the trial court entered an order denying the petition on the grounds that it was too broad and that granting it would cause great disorder and confusion and financially wreck the District. Relator then brought this appeal in which the following issues are raised: (1) is the petition so broad in the information sought that it would invade the privacy of District employees; (2) would granting the petition cause great disorder and confusion in the District; (3) did the trial court abuse its discretion by not granting the petition.

We reverse and remand with instructions that the petition be granted.

The facts are relatively simple and are not in dispute. On May 22, 1975, relator wrote to the defendant requesting access to the following records:

"(1) Records showing the names of all persons employed by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County for all or any part of the year 1974.

(2) Records showing the total compensation, including reimbursements for expenses, received by each person employed as set forth in (1) above for services rendered to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County in the year 1974."

This request was refused, although the District did offer to disclose this information with respect to any specific employee named by relator. Relator then filed his petition seeking access to the records described in his May 22 letter. That letter was incorporated by reference in the petition and was further set out as Exhibit "A" to the petition.

The only witness at the hearing on the petition was the defendant, Superintendent Janura. He testified that in 1974 the District had 1,072 employees. The District's payroll records consisted of an authorization sheet and a payroll sheet. Those sheets contained the names of the employees, their salaries and allowances. The District also kept petty cash records which contained the records of expense reimbursements paid to employees. The payroll and authorization sheets also included the following information concerning employees: address, birthdate, social security number, employee number, title, number of dependents, charitable contributions, wage garnishments, whether the individual was suspended, any loss of pay for suspension.

With the aid of his comptroller and personnel officer, the Superintendent had estimated the cost to the District of complying with relator's request would be $2,000. The work involved would be a review by a personnel department employee and a comptroller's office employee of the records of their respective departments, blacking out information which the District did not wish to disclose and attendance of an employee while the records produced were inspected by relator. The Superintendent acknowledged that an alternate source available for employee names and salaries, though not for expense reimbursements, was the District's copies of the wage and tax statement for each employee. (Internal Revenue Form W-2.) He agreed that all other data on the forms could be blacked out, although no estimate had been made on the cost of providing the information in this manner. No testimony was presented concerning how long it would take to make available the requested information to relator assuming the mandamus were issued.

At the close of the hearing the trial judge denied the petition, finding that the relief sought would "cause great disorder and confusion and financially wreck [the District]" and also finding that the relief sought was too broad.

I.

Article VIII, section 1 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution provides:

"(a) Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.

(b) The State, units of local government and school districts shall incur obligations for payment or make payments from public funds ...


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