In the 7th in our series of interviews with Sunshine Activists we’re happy to introduce you this week to Gus Philpott.
Gus lives in Woodstock, Illinois. His work with open records is interesting partly because he generally focuses on a narrow area of public documents–those related to traffic stops and driving infractions, attempting to gain further information through filing FOIAs.
- What year did you file your first open records request?
- What documents were you looking for?
Traffic accident records for an at-fault accident involving a deputy sheriff that was not reported in the media and for which he did not receive a ticket.
- Did you get those documents?
No, the local police department refused my request and the City Manager denied my appeal.
- Charles Davis of the National Freedom of Information Coalition has talked about having “a FOI moment”. Have you had “a FOI moment” and can you describe it?
My “FOI moment” was the denial by the Illinois State Police of my request for records of a ticket issued to a motorist for 145MPH in a 55MPH zone. The driver was arrested, not just issued a ticket. Clearly a public record. Even after the driver pled guilty and paid a $1069 fine, the ISP director refused to provide the public record, asserting that the individual would suffer an “invasion of privacy.”
- What is the worst (or funniest or most obstructionist or most outrageous) reply you’ve ever received?
Same as my FOI moment.
- How quickly do you generally receive replies to a request?
- About how many open records requests have you filed?
- How do you let your friends, neighbors or the local media know about the documents you get?
Personal communication, email, telephone.
- Have you run into any trouble as the result of filing open records requests?
Yep. A local officer stopped me for a headlight that had gone out 20 minutes earlier; said he’d give me a warning. Went back to his patrol car; a fellow officer came, stayed 5 minutes, left. The police came back to my car and told me he was going to give me a $75 ticket, not a Warning. (I can’t directly attribute this to my FOIA requests; only when combined with emails to the Police Chief and letters to the Editor.)
- What’s the most significant political outcome that has resulted from the work you do?
I am shunned by the local PD and sheriff’s department. I heard there was a $100 bounty on me at the sheriff’s dept. in January 2007.
- Has your local newspaper ever commented on the work you do? Favorably or unfavorably?
- What’s your best advice for other “Sunshine Activists”?
Keep thorough records. Write down everything. Dates, times, names, promises.
- What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
To write down even more detail.
- If you could change your state’s open records law just one way, what would that change be?
Impose a monetary fine on state officials who refuse to comply with FOIA requests, knowing that the filer will probably not haul them into Circuit Court.
- Do you participate in any formal way in organizations that promote the freedom of information cause?
- Are you willing to have other “sunshine activists” from your state get in touch with you?
Yes, at my e-mail address or by phone at 847-971-7083.
Thank you very much, Gus.