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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April 22, 2015 12:54 PM

State Sen. Dan Duffy is fighting to move forward a bill to reform the Illinois Open Meetings Act in the wake of a closed-session debacle over a now-scuttled proposal for a power plant in Oakwood Hills.

House Bill 175 seeks to create a two-year statute of limitations on the ability by the public to report potential violations of the act within 60 days of their discovery. The bill, filed by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Lake Barrington, passed the House a month ago on a 110-0 vote, and has now moved to the Senate Executive Committee.

Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, said he has been pressuring senators to advance the bill for a vote before the end of session May 31. Continue>>>
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April 21, 2015 2:07 PM

At the Better Government Association, we’re also following another “season”—the annual legislative session in Springfield.

As we head into the final innings, the box score indicates the General Assembly is playing “small ball” — moving ahead on bills aimed at eliminating a few more unnecessary units of government, expanding transparency, increasing civic engagement, and improving the criminal justice system.

But they’ve also committed a few errors, including one glaring miscue that would undermine the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Continue>>>
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April 9, 2015 5:46 PM

In the past fifteen months, the Orland Park Public Library (OPPL) has spent over $480,000.00 fighting Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws in a failed attempt at keeping records from the public and keeping the public from speaking / attending public meetings, or in other words, to censor and silence critics...that’s right…this is the same library that received the “intellectual freedom” award winning library and was awarded the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award just last year by the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science even after failing to report, and admitting it, that child pornography was accessed in its library and for defending the “right” of others to view pornography on its computers in full view of other patrons – including children.

That’s just fine and dandy with them because it was your money they were spending, not their own personal money. The situation at the OPPL is a prime example of why public officials must be held personally responsible for their decisions – for if the threat of emptying their personal bank accounts by almost half a million dollars was there, none of this would ever have been an issue.

So as it stands, the OPPL has paid out $10,000.00 deductible on its insurance and $250,000.00 for their attorneys at KTJ. In addition, the insurance company for OPPL has paid out $230,000.00 in its failed defense of the lawsuits brought about by the actions of OPPL board members and OPPL employee Mary Weimar. Continue>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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