Kankakee keeps correspondence secret

October 25, 2018 GMT

KANKAKEE — The city is keeping secret its correspondence with the company that handles garbage collection.

At a city meeting earlier this month, attorney Burt Odelson revealed his law firm wrote a letter to Phoenix-based Republic Services to protest the company’s announcement in August that it would end curbside recycling collection.

Odelson said such a move would be a breach of Republic’s contract with the city. After Republic received the letter, it decided to continue the curbside program, he said.

The Daily Journal sent an open records request seeking the letter, which the city denied.

It cited the part of the state’s open records law that “exempts from disclosure materials prepared or compiled by or for a public body in anticipation of a criminal, civil or administrative proceeding upon request of an attorney advising the public body.”

The city has given no public indication before that it was expecting a legal proceeding with Republic. By the city’s account, the matter appeared resolved when Republic reversed its decision.

Representatives of two watchdog groups said they could see no legal justification for the city’s decision to keep the letter in question secret.

Maryam Judar, executive director of the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center, said the parties to any legal action already have the letter in question in their hands. The attorney-client privilege, she said, does not apply.

“You don’t want to show your cards to the opposing party. When you show your cards and mail a letter, what’s the purpose (of secrecy)?” Judar said.

Don Craven, an attorney for the Illinois Press Association, agreed.

“There’s nothing to keep secret,” he said.

Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong referred questions to the city’s law firm.

In an email, city attorney Michael McGrath said the city stands by its decision to keep the records confidential, but did not elaborate.

In early August, a Republic representative told the council that its curbside program was being discontinued because so much of the recyclable materials in residents’ containers was unacceptable.

The Republic representative told the council that up to 85 percent of the 584 tons of recyclable materials picked up by Republic drivers in Kankakee ultimately were rejected by recycling centers because of a high volume of household waste included.

The contract between Republic and Kankakee expires on Dec. 31, 2020.

Now, Republic is undergoing a citywide audit on recycling participation, identifying which addresses are contaminating their recycling.

McGrath noted Republic’s efforts.

“Republic has also agreed to further educate city residents on what is recyclable and what is not,” he said.