FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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August 28, 2014 5:45 AM

Illinois residents will now have easy access to online information regarding mass transit employee salaries as well as safety and budget information. Citing the benefit of increased government accountability, Gov. Quinn Friday signed a bill to reform the state’s mass transit hiring policies.

Andrew Nelms is director of policy and communications for Americans for Prosperity, a group that advocates for lower taxes and government accountability. He said legislation like the bill signed Friday could be beneficial for taxpayers.

“Anytime taxpayers have access to information like this, it’s a victory,” Nelms said. “I think it’s a bonus to have greater accountability and a checks-and-balances process when we’re talking about such large sums of taxpayer dollars.” Continue>>>
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August 6, 2014 6:19 AM

One of my favorite TV shows in the ‘80s was the “People’s Court,” where average citizens argued small cases in front of feisty Judge Joseph Wapner. The show inspired an entire genre of quasi-real courtroom programs that continue to populate the airwaves today with the likes of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis and several others.

As for the “People’s Court,” I can still picture emcee Doug Llewelyn advising viewers not to take the law into their own hands. “You take ‘em to court,” he’d say.

And decades later, that’s our approach at the Better Government Association in disputes with public agencies over the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Citizens and media outlets typically haggle with government officials over the interpretation of FOIA when their requests are denied. Some adjust their submissions or ask the Illinois Attorney General to step in or simply give up. Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:45 AM

The disappearance of rights is seldom an immediate process. There are too many people willing to stand up and fight against such an undermining of power. The danger is when it comes as a trickle or a tweak. That’s what slowly erodes the soul of transparency.

Gov. Pat Quinn recognized the steep downward slope on which such a tweak would have perched Illinois’ open records law last week when he vetoed a legislative plan to give municipalities more leeway in answering some requests for information. Let’s hope lawmakers leave it alone.

The state’s open records laws stipulate what government agencies must show the public. It doesn’t matter if it’s a school board or a state’s attorney, the overriding belief is that people have a right to know how their money is being spent and what their government is doing. Continue>>>
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illinois, open records
July 1, 2014 12:55 PM
Government transparency advocates are urging the Illinois General Assembly to opt against overriding Gov. Pat Quinn's recent veto of a bill that would "damage" the state's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
 
The FOIA legislation, HB 3796, is a "step in the wrong direction" that would hurt the public's right to access important government data and information, said Alden Loury, senior policy analyst at the Chicago-based Better Government Association, an independent, non-partisan government watchdog group.
 
"We applaud Governor Quinn for taking this [veto] action and we implore the General Assembly to follow his lead and not override this bill," Loury said at a Monday morning press conference at the James R. Thompson Center. Continue>>>
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June 27, 2014 7:04 AM

The campaign of state Rep. TOM CROSS for state treasurer thinks it is not fair that freedom of information requests to the House and Senate have been handled very differently.

The office of the House clerk released hundreds of pages of documents about the 21 years spent by Cross, a Republican from Oswego, in the Illinois House. Among those asking for the documents was ZACH KOUTSKY, campaign manager for state Sen. MIKE FRERICHS, D-Champaign, who is the Democratic candidate for treasurer.

But the Senate president's office, asked by a consultant to the Cross campaign for information about Frerichs' seven years in the Senate, so far has asked that the request be narrowed, but has not released the information. Much, but not all, of the information sought is similar. Continue>>>
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June 23, 2014 7:00 AM

A bill rushed through the closing days of the General Assembly's spring session is drawing the ire of a good-government group that contends it will restrict the ability of citizens to get information about their governments.
Supporters, though, said the bill is a way to help municipalities deal with a comparative handful of people who file excessive requests under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, tying up employees who could better be used doing other work.
“It was intended to fix maybe an unintended consequence of people abusing the FOIA,” said Rep. Bob Rita, D-Blue Island, who drafted the bill. “It's not intended to hide information from people.” Continue>>>
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June 2, 2014 8:19 AM

The key to our watchdog work — shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable — comes down to a single word: Transparency.

In our world it means relatively easy access to public information — documents and records on how government employees spend our tax dollars and make their policy decisions.

The “paper trail” is essential because we can’t review or assess what we can’t see, and we can’t see what’s hidden behind a public official’s closed door. Transparency is what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was talking about a century ago when he said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Continue>>>
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April 28, 2014 8:05 AM

The Chicago Tribune reports that advisers to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel were closely involved with the development of certain scenes in CNN's "Chicagoland" documentary, which aired its final eighth episode Thursday evening.

After obtaining hundreds of email exchanges between the documentary's producers and City Hall staffers through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the newspaper has learned that the mayor's office helped craft Chicagoland plotlines and set up shots of Emanuel. The mayor's team also looked over releases sent to the press to formally announce the "Chicagoland" series, which CNN had advertised as non-scripted.

The email exchanges, however, reveal that the series' producers did not always get the behind-the-scenes footage of the mayor they requested. A good deal of the access to the mayor was organized by Emanuel's team, which "eternally frustrated" Marc Levin, Chicagoland's creator and executive producer, the Tribune reported. Continue>>>
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March 28, 2014 9:40 AM

The Illinois Policy Institute has released the latest round of Local Transparency Project audit results, this time measuring the transparency levels of some of Illinois’ largest municipalities.

IPI just completed an audit of the websites of the 26th through 50th largest municipalities in the state. Online transparency levels varied wildly from community to community. Scores ranged from Lombard’s perfect 100 percent to Romeoville’s dismal 29.7 percent.

Quincy also received an "F" with a score of only 51.1 percent. Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore says as he approaches a year in office, his administration is working to improve in this area. Continue>>>

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March 13, 2014 12:11 AM

Legislators in California and Illinois are working on transparency measures that would bring more of the public’s business out in the open. Yesterday, both houses of the Illinois statehouse passed a measure that will require state agencies to ensure that more information gets on to the state transparency portal faster. In California, a package of bills, known as the California Accountability in Public Service, or CAPS Act were proposed.

The Illinois bill currently on the Governor’s desk will not only compel state agencies to release updated information more quickly, it also establishes a position in the governor’s office to go out and collect data from agencies.

The bill is the result of existing open data practices at state agencies which leave a little to be desired. The state has a Transparency and Accountability Portal, but information on there isn’t updated all that frequently even though both parties support greater government transparency. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 4:55 AM

The Chicago Police Department can no longer keep misconduct records secret, a state appeals court has ruled.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act doesn’t exempt “CR files,” which consist of misconduct complaints against officers and documents created during the investigations, the court found Monday.

The appeals court also found that “RL” files are open to the public. Those files identify police officers who have accumulated the most misconduct complaints. At issue were two RL files that named officers with the most complaints between 2001-2006 and 2002-2008.

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman hailed the ruling, saying: “I really do think this is a watershed moment in Illinois in terms of police transparency and accountability.” Continue>>>
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March 9, 2014 4:55 AM

A bill to make updates to the state government transparency website happen faster is on its way to Gov. Pat Quinn.

House Bill 1040, sponsored by Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake, moves responsibility for posting data to the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal to the governor’s office itself, and mandates all state departments to develop a plan to more quickly get data posted and updated. The portal, created five years ago through another Tryon bill, includes information such as state employees’ pay, state agency expenses and contracts, and local governments’ annual financial reports.

Tryon said he envisioned the website having almost instantaneous updates, but said it has fallen far short – in some cases, up to five months behind. His bill moves responsibility for the portal out of the Department of Central Management Services, which is in charge of state government’s IT needs. Continue>>>
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