"We're anxious to see the petition. We pursued access to it because we thought it was the right thing to do, that the public should know who was interested in the property and who was lobbying the commission on their behalf," said John Nelson, the paper's managing editor.
"It will be interesting to see if there was a real reason the city felt compelled to keep it away from public view. If there is no reason, then this has been a waste of everybody's time - the city's, ours, and the state attorney general's - which could have been avoided simply by handing over the document," Nelson continued.
The City Commission has considered selling 3.5 acres near Hilldale Cemetery, but discussions about the land, who might buy it and what it would be used for have all been conducted in executive session, out of public view, despite protests from residents.
During one executive session, the unknown developer presented a petition that was allegedly signed by residents who supported the sale of the land and the proposed plans for its use.
Duncan Hill residents complain about secrecy
Several Duncan Hill residents complained about the Commission's secrecy and expressed concern over how the land - originally donated to the city by Danville's black community in 1962 with the idea that it would be used for cemetery expansion - might be developed.
"I beg all the citizens of Danville to fight against this injustice to the black community and to our forefathers," resident Kerry Kenley, who spearheaded efforts to make the matter public, told Commissioners in June. "A lot of us have family out there. We like to bury family with family."
The Advocate made a formal Open Records request for the petition in June and then again in July. Both requests were denied by the city, saying the petition was exempt from public inspection because it was a correspondence between private individuals and the city that depended on assurances of confidentiality.
The paper appealed to the attorney general, arguing that "a petition of citizens to their government" could not be excluded from the public under Open Records statutes.
"We are not persuaded that the record in dispute, a petition signed by individuals who support the sale of city-owned property, qualifies as correspondence with a private individual," the AG's decision states. "Because it cannot be properly characterized as correspondence with a private individual, it became an open record upon submission to the Commission..."