BGA Scores Victory in Navy Pier Case

State appellate court rules that Navy Pier documents are subject to open records laws even though nonprofit that runs the pier is not a public body.

Gargolas/iStock

Records detailing the operations at Navy Pier are subject to Illinois’ public records laws, according to an Illinois Appellate Court ruling Monday that sided in part with a Better Government Association lawsuit filed six years ago.

“This is a significant victory for transparency in Illinois,” said Matt Topic, the BGA’s attorney in the case. “As government bodies increasingly privatize their functions, it’s crucial that the public continue to have access to information to hold these entities accountable.”

A three-judge panel for the appellate court’s First District upheld an earlier ruling from a Cook County judge that ordered records relating to the government functions by Navy Pier Inc., the nonprofit that operates the publicly owned landmark, be made public.

NPI was created in 2011 after the publicly run Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns Navy Pier and also owns and operates the McCormick Place convention center, decided it needed a separate entity to handle the pier’s day-to-day operations.

“NPI performs a governmental function on behalf of the MPEA,” the panel wrote in its 15-page opinion, “and the records BGA requested directly relate to NPI’s performance of that governmental function.”

The judges added that MPEA can’t “use the arrangement with NPI to avoid disclosure of the documents BGA requested.”

The court also agreed with the lower court’s ruling that although records involving its public functions should be subject to open records laws, Navy Pier itself is not a “public body.”

The BGA had argued NPI should be considered a subsidiary public body of the MPEA.

The ruling means NPI will likely not be subject to open meeting laws and, as a practical matter, documents held by NPI are subject to public records requests to the MPEA, not from NPI directly.

Attorneys for MPEA and NPI did not return requests for comment, and it was unclear whether they would appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

In 2014, the BGA filed a request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for payroll, leasing and other records that had been routinely made public when Navy Pier operations were still under MPEA’s control. NPI and MPEA denied the requests, contending NPI was not bound by open records laws because it was a private nonprofit, and the BGA sued.