When Larry Young started requesting records from police, he just wanted to find out what had happened to his daughter, Molly.
More than six years after the 21-year-old was found shot to death in her ex-boyfriend’s Carbondale apartment, Young is still fighting law enforcement agencies for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
Young’s battle has become a long, often painful example of both the promise and weakness of government-transparency laws in Illinois, including an overwhelmed and inconsistent enforcement system overseen by outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Police and other government agencies have offered a series of reasons why Young can’t see certain records from the investigations into Molly’s death. At times they’ve claimed the information should remain under wraps to protect the privacy of his daughter, even though she’s dead and he’s the executor of her estate. On other occasions they’ve simply ignored his requests and disregarded four different rulings from the attorney general’s office.
In 2009, Madigan and state legislators crafted a new law they promised would help citizens like Young by improving access to government records and proceedings. Under one of its key provisions, the attorney general’s office was given authority to interpret and enforce the state Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts. Since then, thousands of citizens, mostly individuals but also journalists and businesses, have appealed for help from the office’s public access counselor, known as the PAC. As she prepares to leave office after 16 years, Madigan has touted her work in promoting transparency as one of her signature achievements. (Read more…)