By Elizabeth Donald
For the Times-Tribune
The Madison County Board and County Auditor Rick Faccin are likely headed to a showdown over financial records after a vote to allow county officials access to the records over Faccin’s protests.
The resolution approved at last week’s county board meeting allows county officials access to the county’s internal financial records system, which Faccin said would expose personal information to the administration, including private financial and medical records.
Faccin has repeatedly said he would not turn over access to the information because there is an ongoing criminal investigation on the actions of several administration officers, run by the Madison County Public Corruption Task Force.
“You can pass a resolution if you want, but I don’t have to abide by it,” Faccin said in what became a heated discussion. “I’m not going to turn over personal information to people under investigation.”
Law enforcement officers raided several offices in the county administration building in January 2019, and in September the investigation was turned over to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. No further information has been publicly released.
Faccin said he would reconsider access after the investigation is complete.
State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said Faccin had an obligation to operate the system, but that “scrubbing” personal data would not be practical as board members had suggested, since the records go back decades and were not always entered the same. “There’s not just a column you can black out,” he said.
When asked if Faccin could withhold the information, Gibbons said that if the information was mishandled, the county would be liable for privacy violations, particularly if the data were placed online. “We would be in massive violation of privacy rights and federal and state statutes by doing that, and subject to probably a massive class action lawsuit,” Gibbons said. “This is hundreds of thousands of records with information we are required by law to protect… (This order) can be interpreted for a massive violation.”
Gibbons said that he did not believe the county board had the authority to issue the order. While some of the information is open record under the Freedom of Information Act, Gibbons said, personal information is not subject to FOIA. He also stated that the county board chairman does not have oversight over the auditor’s office.
Board Member Ann Gorman (D-Edwardsville) asked if there was some pressing need to access the information now, or if it could wait until the investigation is complete. Gibbons offered to contact the Illinois Attorney General’s office for its opinion on what he said was a unique question of law.
Prenzler replied that they had been waiting for two years.
Republican board members argued that Prenzler and County Administrator Doug Hulme need access to the records to develop a budget, but Faccin said the previous Democratic administrations did not have access to them either. Board member Mike Parkinson pointed out that the board has passed two budgets since Prenzler was elected without having access to the records.
The board voted 13-12 to order access to the records, after a contentious discussion during which Prenzler repeatedly gaveled Faccin out of order. Four board members were absent.
Board member Mick Madison (R-Bethalto) hinted at a court battle over the records. “They’re going to force us to ask for a court order, so we will yet again be wasting taxpayers’ money,” he said.