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Wayne Township Bd. of Auditors v. Vogel

OPINION FILED JANUARY 30, 1979.

WAYNE TOWNSHIP BOARD OF AUDITORS, DU PAGE COUNTY, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

JOHN O. VOGEL, SUPERVISOR OF GENERAL ASSISTANCE OF WAYNE TOWNSHIP, DU PAGE COUNTY, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. HELEN C. KINNEY, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE GUILD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied March 19, 1979.

This case is a mandamus action brought by the Wayne Township Board of Auditors (hereinafter the Board) against the township supervisor of general assistance, John Vogel (hereinafter Supervisor), to compel him to submit the files, papers, correspondence and records of the public assistance programs of Wayne Township. Prior to filing this mandamus action, the Board had demanded the names, addresses and amounts of assistance paid to relief recipients. The Supervisor refused to do so unless the Board adopted "proper rules and regulations respecting the confidentiality of the records" or that the members of the Board sign affidavits "respecting said confidentiality."

The Supervisor contended that he had a duty imposed upon him to "protect the dignity of public aid recipients."

The trial court issued a writ of mandamus, finding that the Supervisor had the duty to submit the records of the public assistance program to the Township Board of Auditors; that the Board had the authority to request such records be submitted in such form as directed; and ordering the Supervisor to submit such records as so requested. The Supervisor complied with the writ. The trial court further entered judgment against the Supervisor, individually, for $3682 on its interpretation that "damages" was a unique provision in the mandamus act which covers the awarding of attorney's fees.

The Supervisor has raised three issues, viz.: (1) the petition for the writ of mandamus should have been denied; (2) the trial court erred in finding that section 5 of the mandamus act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 87, par. 5) allowing damages included attorney's fees; and (3) the respondent was acting in his official capacity and that any judgment should have been a charge upon him in his official capacity.

As noted above, the Supervisor refused to deliver the records in question unless the Board adopted rules and regulations respecting confidentiality of the records or that they sign affidavits which would respect such confidentiality. The trial court correctly ruled that the burden of confidentiality, as set forth in the pertinent provisions of the Public Aid Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, pars. 11-9 through 11-12), in the case before us, is upon the Board and not upon the Supervisor. As the trial court observed here:

"* * * it wasn't up to one or the other of them to be the keeper of the conscience of all the other people or to impose extra statutory requirements upon this exchange of information among public officials."

We agree.

• 1 Section 11-9 does not specifically make confidential the names, addresses and amounts of grants to recipients. We also note that section 11-11 provides that:

"County Departments shall maintain monthly at their offices registers showing the names and addresses of all grantees of record receiving public aid under Articles III and IV of this Code, together with the amount paid to each grantee during the preceding month. Local governmental units shall maintain similar monthly registers for recipients of public aid under Articles VI and VII. No information other than names, addresses and amounts of grants shall be included in these reports. Each report shall be securely bound in a record book provided for this purpose and shall, except as otherwise provided in Section 11-9, be open to public inspection at all times during the regular office hours of the county department or local governmental unit." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 23, par. 11-11.)

It can thus be seen that section 11-11 provides that an employee of the local governmental unit may rely on a statement under oath by the party seeking inspection of the record book that the information will not be used for political or commercial purposes. Section 11-12 provides a criminal penalty for publication of, or use of, such names for political or commercial purposes.

It can thus be seen that the legislative purpose set forth in these statutory provisions is that first, the identities of the recipients of public aid and the amounts paid to them shall not be kept secret, and indeed should be kept available for public inspection. Recent prosecutions and convictions of unlawful payments to public aid recipients are indicative of the legislative wisdom in making such information available. However, the second purpose behind the restrictions placed upon such disclosure is likewise self-evident — such information shall not be used for political or commercial purposes and shall not be published.

• 2-4 It is fundamental that a public official may not refuse to comply with a statute on the ground that if he complies with the statutory duty to deliver records the receiving public official might violate the law by disclosing any confidential records. That was the sole reason that the Supervisor refused to deliver the records to the Board, as required by statute. The respondent agrees that he has the obligation to submit "reports" as the Board might require, but seemingly argues that he does not have to submit "records" which were ordered delivered by the writ of mandamus. He contends that the writ went beyond the mandate of the statute. He seeks to buttress this argument on the ground that the Board had ...


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