CHICAGO - The village of Rosemont can't cite concerns over "competitive harm" to others when picking and choosing which financial documents to publicly disclose - and specifically when trying to keep privileged its take from rents and concession revenues from the arenas it owns and operates, a state appeals court has affirmed.
In June, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court upheld a Cook County judge's decision to require Rosemont to turn over information concerning how much the village charges and collects in rent for the use of village-owned entertainment venues, and other related financial information, such as how it divides up revenue from concession sales at the venues.
In the opinion, authored by Justice P. Scott Neville, the appeals panel held the Freedom of Information Act "does not exempt from disclosure the rent Rosemont charged and the negotiated financial incentives Rosemont provided to the persons who sought to use Rosemont’s facilities. Rosemont lacked authority to exempt from disclosure documents that FOIA required Rosemont to disclose."
The dispute began in 2014 over a concert at Rosemont's Allstate Arena, at which country music star Garth Brooks performed. Rosemont owns and operates the Allstate Arena. A Chicago Tribune reporter requested all the contracts related to Brooks’ concert. But Rosemont responded with redacted portions of the contracts, specifically financial information. St. Clair asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office to review the village's refusal to disclose the financials.
Less than a month later, the village of Rosemont adopted an ordinance saying, in part: “Notwithstanding ... the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, no officer or employee of the Village of Rosemont shall knowingly disclose confidential financial or proprietary information relating to any Amusement Event held or to be held at an Entertainment Venue.”
In January of 2015 the Better Government Association (BGA) filed suit against Rosemont charging it with violating the FOIA request. The Attorney General, later in January, issued a binding opinion saying the Rosemont ordinance did not exempt it from fully complying with the FOIA request.
In court, Cook County Circuit Judge Rita Novak sided with the BGA. Rosemont appealed, arguing it was exempt from disclosure because the financial information disclosed would cause competitive harm in the marketplace.
The appellate court, however, backed Novak and the BGA, saying the law "requires disclosure of all the negotiated terms of the contracts at issue, including rent and incentives Rosemont gave private contracting parties."
"Home rule units have the power to expand the duty to disclose, but they lack authority to exempt from disclosure documents and information for which FOIA mandates disclosure," the appellate justices said.
The village was represented in the action by the firm of Rosenthal Murphey Coblentz and Donahue, of Chicago.
The BGA was represented by attorneys with the firm of Loevy & Loevy, of Chicago.