Friday, February 14, 2014

EDITORIAL

Understanding The Freedom of Information
Act (5 ILCS 140) and the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120) and citizen rights.

Here is a message from Lisa Madigan, Illinois Attorney General in the publication "A GUIDE TO THE ILLINOIS FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT" (revised 2010).

"Open and honest government is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it can only be achieved through the free exchange of information between the government and its citizens.

The Office of the Attorney General is committed to supporting and enforcing the principle of open government embodied in two important laws: The Freedom of Information
Act (5 ILCS 140) and the Open Meetings Act (5 ILCS 120).
 
Both are critical tools in shining light on government action, and ultimately strengthening our democracy.

As Attorney General, I feel so strongly about the role these Acts play in our government, that, for the first time in Illinois history, I have established the position of Public Access
Counselor within my office.
 
The Public Access Counselor will take an active role in assuring
that public bodies understand the requirements of the laws and conduct their business openly and that the public has access to the governmental information to which they are entitled.
 
The Freedom of Information Act is a pro-disclosure law embedded in the fundamental principle that citizens have a right to access public documents of their government, while
balancing the government necessary ability to conduct the business of the people.

The purpose of this Guide to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act is intended to be a helpful contribution in ensuring open and honest government in every corner of Illinois.
 
The Office of the Attorney General is pleased to offer this revised guide to foster accountability of government to its citizens, which is the bedrock of a democratic society."
 
 
In our experience, we have issued hundreds of FOIA requests to obtain information that should be readily available to the public. In most instances, the FOIA officers have properly and willingly complied in the performance of their mandate as custodians of public records.
 
However, we have encountered resistance to obtaining information by a select few municipal workers who deliberately impede the process by assertions of attorney-client privilege and trade secrets.
 
The blatant abuse of privilege is in cases where taxpayer funds are being used to compensate outside attorneys (who are typically connected insiders). The most egregious act of concealment is the "Independent Internal Investigation" that is anything but independent. The definition of independent is clear - not subject to the control or influence of the entity under investigation. Yet, it is typically the General Counsel of the municipal entity that hires the "Independent" Counsel and who signs off on payment of the legal fees.
 
This is now the case with the Rutherford internal investigation raised in the Illinois Governor's 2014 campaign. It has also been the case in our FOIA's at MPEA, METRA, TRS and other agencies that spend taxpayer funds with impunity and outside the scope of accountability.
 
This is exactly the accountability called for by Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
 
We call upon the Illinois Legislature and the IL AG's office to examine the scope of veil of privilege and trade secrets to insure there is no abuse of taxpayer funds or the abuse of power by patronage municipal workers zealous to protect their sandbox.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



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