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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September 26, 2014 8:10 AM

A state judge has invoked a federal court doctrine to reject a request under New York's Freedom of Information Law for information about police surveillance of a New York City mosque.

Finding no guidance from higher courts in New York, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Alexander Hunter Jr. ruled that New York City Police Department may invoke the "Glomar doctrine" exception under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to deny an Islamic group's request under the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).

The Glomar doctrine allows federal agencies, citing law enforcement or national security concerns, to refuse to confirm or deny that the information sought under a FOIA application exists. Continue>>>

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September 23, 2014 8:49 AM

Jon Daniel was watching cartoons with one of his sons when he created a spoof Twitter account in the name of the Peoria mayor. Out of boredom, he said, he soon began sending profane messages about sex, drugs and alcohol.

Daniel never intended for the fake account to be seen by anyone other than his friends, and it never attracted more than a few dozen followers. But within weeks the raunchy parody led to a police raid of his home and ignited a debate about online satire, free speech and the limits of a mayor's power.

Now Daniel is taking the matter to federal court in a lawsuit alleging the city violated his civil rights. The 29-year-old, who works as a tavern cook in his hometown, modeled the tweets on those of other fake accounts that lampoon sports stars by tweeting in a voice that appears drunk. He was dumbfounded when Twitter suspended the account. Continue>>>
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September 19, 2014 9:39 AM

Federal investigators appear to be looking into actions of the recently dissolved Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department. Responding to a tip, the Paxton Record filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Sept. 5 seeking the disclosure of any federal subpoenas for records that Iroquois County had received relating to the bi-county health department.

Iroquois County's FOIA officer, Amanda Longfellow, denied the request on Sept. 12, saying that providing the information requested would 'interfere with pending or actually and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings ...'

On Monday, Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas would neither confirm nor deny a federal investigation is under way. Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Continue>>>
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September 19, 2014 9:31 AM

Despite having a new criminal subpoena in hand, Gov. Pat Quinn's administration dragged its feet in releasing the politically-sensitive public document -- a delay one expert called a gaming of the state open-records laws that 'stinks'.

On Tuesday, the governor's office finally released the federal grand jury subpoena dated Aug. 27 that sought records related to Quinn's failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, but it did so only selectively.

After the end of business on Sept. 3, the Chicago Sun-Times submitted an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request seeking ìany state or federal subpoenasî received by the governorís office dating back to Aug. 1, a time period that covered the latest query from the U.S. attorney's office. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:58 PM

A recent Illinois appellate court decision should remind government entities that charging a fee for a FOIA request should not be assessed without due care. In Sage Information Services v. Suhr, 2014 IL App (2d) 130708, the plaintiffs requested "a copy, on CD or similar electronic media, of the current real property assessment record file for the entire county, together with an electronic copy of the sales file" from the Supervisor of Assessments.

The requestor asserted that under section 6(a) of the FOIA, the defendant could charge no more than the cost of the disc. However, the defendant responded that the plaintiff would have to pay $6,290.45 (five cents per parcel) to obtain the records, relying on section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code.

The parties disagreed on which statute governs how much the defendant should charge for electronic records. Defendant asserted that the governing statute was section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code, which provides that, "In all counties, all property record cards maintained by...the chief county assessment officer shall be public records.... Upon request and payment of such reasonable fee established by the custodian, a copy or printout shall be provided to any person." 35 ILCS 200/9-20. The plaintiff contends the governing statute is section 6(a) of the FOIA, which provides, "When a person requests a copy of a record maintained in an electronic format, the public body shall furnish it in the electronic format specified by the requester, if feasible.... A public body may charge the requester for the actual cost of purchasing the recording medium, whether disc, diskette, tape, or other medium... Except to the extent that the General Assembly expressly provides, statutory fees applicable to copies of public records when furnished in a paper format shall not be applicable to those records furnished in an electronic format." 5 ILCS 140/6(a). Continue>>>
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FOIA fees, illinois
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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