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

March 24, 2015 9:10 AM
Five years ago, the Northwest Herald began an ongoing series called “No More Excuses” to badger and shame local governments into compliance with new and much stronger open-government laws.
Timed to coincide with the national observance of Sunshine Week in mid-March, the series also coincided with new laws that not only strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts, but also gave the Attorney General Public Access Counselor the power to enforce them upon recalcitrant local governments. The newspaper decided that the time for excuses for not being transparent in an information age was over and that Illinois governments needed to be brought, kicking and screaming if necessary, into modern times.
Sunshine laws do not limit what governments can release to or discuss in front of the public – they limit what the government can conceal from them. Continue>>>
March 23, 2015 11:47 AM

After the scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison, lawmakers adopted a raft of reforms that included creating a referee to intervene when bureaucrats reject citizens’ requests for government records.

Five years later, the “public access counselor” in the attorney general’s office has yet to respond to more than 2,800 appeals of Freedom of Information Act requests for information that a government agency deemed secret, according to an analysis of records obtained by The Associated Press.

That’s about one in five of all FOIA appeals submitted to the office since the law took effect in 2010. Continue>>>

March 3, 2015 1:05 PM

Some lawmakers in Springfield are again trying to make government less transparent.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, a Republican from Rockford, has filed House Bill 261. If passed, it will end the publication of all public notices in newspapers in favor of government websites. The legislation states that when a law, court order, or contract requires a governmental unit to provide notice by publication in a newspaper, that governmental unit may publish the notice on an official government website instead of in a newspaper.

You might recall a similar assault of transparency occurred in 2011, when a nearly identical bill was filed. It was unsuccessful. Continue>>>

February 26, 2015 1:17 PM

Last year, country music star Garth Brooks began his latest tour at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, but after months of resistance the village has only now released certain financial details of Brooks's 11-show stand.

Though the concerts were held in September, Rosemont declined to release financial figures, even passing an ordinance to keep that information under wraps. At that time, Brooks was said to gross $12 million from selling 183,535 tickets to the shows -- both huge numbers -- but now the Chicago Tribune has reported that the village also paid Brooks $1,050,000 in the form of a "rebate". That is, the report said, Rosemont paid $100,000 for each of 10 shows, and another $50,000 for the 11th show, which did not sell out.

A spokesperson for Rosemont told the Tribune that the town made more than $2 million from the concerts, but did not provide any documentation to back up that claim. The Tribune explained that Rosemont only released the information after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a binding opinion late last month that the financial details were subject to freedom-of-information laws. It's not clear if the deal with Brooks is typical, since Rosemont has not released information about other agreements with entertainers who perform at Allstate Arena, the report added. Continue>>>

February 24, 2015 11:32 AM

A Verified Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief naming the Clark County Park District as Defendant was filed in Clark County Circuit Court on 02/18/2015.

This stems from the February 17, 2015 meeting where the Board approved “Lease Rates” and “Amended Covenants” but kept the contents of those documents secret from the public.

A public body is required, among others, under the Open Meetings Act “to precede the votes by a public recital of the nature of the matter being considered and other information that would inform the public of the business being conducted…” Continue>>>

January 20, 2015 12:34 PM

It’s show time again in Springfield, and the supporting cast is the same as last year — more than a hundred Democrats who maintain veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

But there’s a new star, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who enters stage left with a fresh script that promises to replace “business as usual” with fiscal and ethical reform.

Act I will focus primarily on the state’s financial crisis — a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, stacks of unpaid bills, a broken tax system, and an unresolved pension crisis. Continue>>>

January 19, 2015 2:53 PM

In September and October of 2014, and December of 2013, several Freedom of Information Act requests were denied by the College of DuPage FOIA Officer. After several failed attempts at asking them to provide the public records they were bound by law to provide, we decided it was time to file suit in DuPage County Circuit Court.

These requests consisted of public records concerning “Broadcast Technologies” and the W-2 Form for COD President Breuder.

The W-2: In spite of the fact that AG Pratt had told me over the phone that she would reconsider the PACs determination, no response was forthcoming after my letter to her. With that in mind, and the desire to review public records we are lawfully entitled to, the below civil suit was filed today, January 15, 2015 in DuPage County Circuit Court. Continue>>>

January 5, 2015 6:49 AM

Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Hal Harper has spent every workday for the last two months dealing with Freedom of Information Act requests from a convicted murderer.

Harper, who started two months ago as one of the department’s Freedom Of Information Act officers, said that Daniel Cleary recently sent a request for 2,500 pages of documents and a DVD of his police interrogations.

The Illinois General Assembly in early December passed an amendment to the state’s FOIA law that deals with voluminous requests. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill, after which the General Assembly voted to override the veto. The new changes allow public bodies to charge for time, materials, transportation and other costs associated with providing material in FOIA filings. Continue>>>

December 18, 2014 12:27 PM

In a binding decision published on November 25, 2014, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) found the Village of Winnetka in violation of FOIA after the Village denied a request that asked for a copy of a Village employee's employment application and resume. The Village denied the request and cited FOIA exemptions, including under section 7(1)(c) of the Act. It is important for public bodies to be aware that the personal privacy exemption under section 7(1)(c) requires the balancing of four factors to determine whether an individual's privacy interests outweigh the interests of the public in disclosure.

William Buell submitted a FOIA request to the Village seeking "a copy of the completed employment application and resume for James Bernahl for the position of Assistant Director of Public Works and Engineering." The Village denied Buell's FOIA request and cited FOIA exemptions, including section 7(1)(c). Buell filed a Request for Review with the Public Access Bureau that expressed concern that Bernahl's hiring may have been in violation of Illinois law.

Under section 7(1)(c), the Village argued that Bernahl's employment application and resume were exempt because the employment history and other information in the resume and employment application did not pertain to the public duties of public employees. The Village cited several cases in its argument, but those cases interpreted an earlier version of the personal privacy exemption. Prior to January 1, 2010, the personal privacy exemption was found in section 7(1)(b) of FOIA and exempted the disclosure information that would be considered an invasion of personal privacy. However, the Illinois General Assembly enacted Public Act 96-542, effective January 1, 2010, that replaced former section 7(1)(b) with the current section 7(1)(c). Continue>>>

December 9, 2014 3:11 PM

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn stopped a $20 million state construction grant to the College of DuPage last June when a troubling email surfaced from President Robert Breuder to the Board of Trustees. The email outlined a political strategy helpful to the incumbent governor in an effort to procure the millions of dollars. Furthermore, Breuder suggested “bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then building something.” It was the first in a long line of irregularities uncovered during our seven-month investigation of the $300 million-per-year community college.

Now, COD admits no meeting minutes exist that record board votes changing Breuder’s $469,000 per year contract. In Illinois, without public votes, such addendums are invalid. Without the contract changes, COD trustees may have paid Breuder without legal authority to do so — since 2012.

Last Friday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Lake County States Attorney Michael Nerheim received my Quo Warranto application seeking a review of Breuder’s employment contract and addendums. Continue>>>

December 8, 2014 2:11 PM

The Northwest Herald Editorial Board offers this week’s thumbs up and thumbs down this week:

Thumbs down: To state Sen. Pam Althoff, who twice voted in favor of House Bill 3796 and chipping away at the state’s Freedom of Information Act. HB 3796 lets governments identify certain FOIA requests as “voluminous.” Then, the government unit can delay providing information and charge between $20 and $100 for electronic data. Althoff, R-McHenry, was a Senate sponsor of the bill. She voted for it last spring and again this week to help override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of the bill. State Sens. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, and Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, also voted “yes” last spring, but smartly changed their votes to “no” this week. In the House, state Reps. Jack Franks, D-Marengo; David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake; and Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, all voted “no” – twice.

Thumbs up: To those that have donated money and time to helping the Bauman family of Crystal Lake recover from a November barn fire that killed as many as 32 horses. The family said the outpouring of support from the horse community has been “unbelievable” and that they have received sympathy cards from people all over the county. In the wake of tragedy, it’s good to see a community rally around a family that has experienced so much loss. Continue>>>

December 5, 2014 11:56 AM

Your lame-duck Legislature is fiddling with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act again. No good can come of that.

Before they leave town this week, lawmakers with nothing to lose could be asked to vote on two bills, both of them designed to water down an already weak public records law.

Their aim is to make it harder for you to see what public officials are doing — on your behalf, with your tax dollars. Continue>>>

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