Peoria has changed its FOIA procedure after mistakenly releasing personal information.
Personal information of 64 city employees mistakenly released in December through a Freedom of Information Act request was returned to City Hall Tuesday and shredded.
Alma Brown, a city spokeswoman, said Thursday a letter was mailed to every affected individual, notifying them the information had been returned. In a news release, Brown said, "We have been assured that the information was not comprised, copied or distributed."
The woman who obtained the information, also a city employee, said she returned it "so my fellow employees could be assured that nothing would happen to their information. I thought I was doing a good thing by letting them know they released it. If I hadn’t said anything, they never would have known."
The FOIA request and subsequent release of Social Security numbers, bank account statements, checking account numbers, etc., is leading city departments to change how they handle FOIA requests, Brown said.
Some of those changes were provided by Interim City Manager Henry Holling to the City Council during an executive session Tuesday, Mayor Jim Ardis said.
"Obviously there was a concern on the way it was handled but the manager did a good job," Ardis said. "I know I’m comfortable with what he’s done and implemented."
Those changes, Brown said, include a second departmental employee assigned to act as a FOIA "officer," who will check city documents before they are OK’d for release. In the past, there has been only one employee acting in the FOIA officer position within each city department, such as public works, police and fire.
A training session will be held to get everyone handling FOIA requests educated on what to do.
"What that does is give a second set of eyes," Brown said. "They will review for completeness and accuracy (before FOIA requests) are released."
In addition, Brown said all sensitive FOIA requests will be reviewed by an attorney within the legal department before it’s allowed to be released. By law, once a FOIA request is submitted, the city has seven days to respond.
Brown said to her knowledge, none of the victims have contacted City Hall expressing wishes to have a credit check or to purchase identity theft insurance, which can run between $20 to $100 a year.
"We’re confident what has been returned was the information given to her," Brown added.
That woman used the FOIA request to obtain a list of all city employees who participated in the city’s tuition reimbursement program between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2007.
Initially, she wanted to keep the information until her case concerning her own tuition reimbursement was reviewed. Her reimbursement was denied, while other city employees apparently were reimbursed.
"I wasn’t holding on to it to hurt anyone or cause anyone stress or anxiety," she said.
She said she still has concerns about the city’s handling of personal information, particularly after the Journal Star found the city released personal information of an OSF Health Plans employee as part of a FOIA request.
"How do I know my information wasn’t released previously? That should be that office’s first and biggest responsibility. They have everything — medical information, Social Security numbers, such a huge amount of personal information."
John Sharp can be reached at (309) 686-3282 or email@example.com. Jennifer Davis contributed to this report.