CHICAGO — An Illinois appellate court has ruled that the College of DuPage Foundation is subject to the state’s open records law and ordered it to turn over a federal subpoena that the Chicago Tribune requested.
The unanimous decision marks the first time an Illinois higher court has ruled in favor of releasing records in possession of a public college’s fundraising organization, the Tribune reported.
The ruling upholds an earlier ruling by a DuPage Circuit Court judge.
“The Tribune is very pleased with the decision, which is a victory for transparency regarding the affairs of government,” said Karen Flax, the newspaper’s vice president of legal. “The Appellate Court’s decision confirms that public bodies — like the College of DuPage — cannot shield public records by attempting to contract out governmental functions to a third party.”
The newspaper sued the college and the foundation in April 2015 to obtain various documents after its open-records requests were refused. The requests were filed as the newspaper investigated college spending and contracts.
The college eventually provided most of the records, but the foundation didn’t turn over a subpoena it received as part of a sweeping federal investigation into the school, which is based in Glen Ellyn.
The federal inquiry came after the newspaper questioned top administrators’ expenses, contracts awarded to members of the foundation board, and other spending issues at Illinois’ largest community college.
College officials said they were assessing possible next steps in the litigation.
Sherman Neal, president of the foundation’s board of directors, released a statement Wednesday noting board members are volunteers. He said the board was disappointed the court disregarded it when deciding who controls the foundation.
“For the past two years, the COD Foundation Board of Directors has been working with the leadership of the College and the Foundation administration in developing a new and refreshed relationship and has already adopted several best practices to help College of DuPage students and strengthen the connection with our donors, alumni and friends,” Neal said in the statement.
The statement said the college and foundation are drafting a new agreement governing their relationship.