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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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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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>>>
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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>>>
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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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December 5, 2014 11:21 AM

Once again, failure to follow the Freedom of Information Act, failure to provide responsive public records to the person requesting the records.

This is the 7th FOIA civil suit against Arcola Township.

You can read it below, but the main problem is that Arcola Township thinks they can do as they please, the law be damned. Continue>>>
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December 3, 2014 2:20 PM

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and several good government and media groups are speaking out against a measure that they say would "significantly weaken" the state's freedom of information laws.

The state proposal, introduced as an amendment to SB 2799 last week by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, "would expand the ability of a government body to withhold information from the public, and make it harder for citizens to use the legal system when a government body is violating transparency laws," according to a Monday news release from the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).

In addition to Illinois PIRG, other groups opposing the measure, which is expected to go before the Executive Committee on Monday, include the ACLU of Illinois, Better Government Association, Citizen Advocacy Center, Illinois Broadcasters Association and Illinois Press Association. Continue>>>

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December 2, 2014 11:36 AM

In a state where four of the last seven governors have been convicted of things such as corruption, bribery and fraud, you'd think the general consensus would always be: The more transparent your government is, the better off we'll all be.

But no.

The latest assault on open government is a bill sponsored by State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, that would undermine your ability to watch over what government does on the local and state levels. The Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, gives you access to all kinds of government records – from documents used by your school board to set its budget to the report that police write when you get in a fender-bender. Continue>>>
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December 2, 2014 11:22 AM

Illinois residents could have a harder time accessing government information under new legislation before the General Assembly. 

The plan, SB2799, makes it harder for people to get repaid legal costs when a government wrongfully denies access to public documents.

At the same time, it makes it easier for governments to keep certain information off-limits. Continue>>> 

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December 1, 2014 2:07 PM

What was said to whom and when about St. Elizabeth’s Hospital’s plans for a replacement hospital in O’Fallon have led to Freedom of Information Act requests by the city of Belleville and the hospital. And now the attorney general is investigating those requests and the responses provided.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has called for further inquiry into responses to the FOIA requests Belleville made to O’Fallon, and the requests St. Elizabeth’s made to Belleville

While an attorney representing Belleville said he trusts the “standard process” as Belleville awaits more information requested from O’Fallon, a Hospital Sisters Health System attorney said she expects transparency from Belleville as it awaits documents from the city. Continue>>>
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November 20, 2014 10:51 AM

Ever since Illinois rewrote and bolstered its Freedom of Information Act in 2010, government officials of all stripes have done their best to chip away at it. Such is the case with a bill vetoed this year by Gov. Pat Quinn.

As lawmakers gather in Springfield this week for the annual fall veto session, Better Government Association President Andy Shaw says this is one veto that should be left alone.

Shaw writes: Continue>>>
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November 19, 2014 1:33 PM

Bad ideas, unlike fine wine, don’t get better with age.

And that’s especially true of HB 3796, a bill that would weaken FOIA, the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

It was a bad idea when it breezed through the Illinois House and Senate in May with little explanation or debate. Continue>>>
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October 2, 2014 1:00 PM

So how much of your dollars are being spent on providing free college educations for state workers? We don't know ó and that should outrage you. We know that in past budgets the state has spent $5 million on the program known as Upward Mobility.

But if you take a careful look at this year's state budget you'll find that the program has been 'zeroed out' meaning that it appears the state is no longer spending a dime on the program. But appearances can be deceptive, especially when it comes to Illinois state government.

A quick look at the department of Central Management Services website shows that the program is plugging right along ñ same as always. A call to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which operates the program with the state and you'll learn money is apparently pouring in this year. But how much of our money is being spent? State officials aren't saying. Continue>>>
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