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Our Secret Government

"It took Ed Mrkvicka Jr. a year under the improved Illinois Freedom of Information Act to get a two-page state disciplinary report about a real estate agent," the Northwest Herald reports.

"The Marengo resident and his daughter filed two FOIA requests with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Not only did the agency ignore the request, but it also had ignored the Illinois Attorney General Public Access Counselor's order to submit the documents for review.

"Suffice it to say, Mrkvicka doesn't think highly of the new and stronger law.

"'It's tantamount to fraud to let Illinois believe that we in fact have a [Freedom of Information] law that has teeth in it, because we don't,' Mrkvicka said.

"Audits of governments' compliance with the law - both before and after the reforms took effect - lend weight to Mrkvicka's skepticism.

"Watchdog groups before the reforms found mass noncompliance among Illinois' local governments. A new audit two years into the stronger FOIA finds that little has changed.

"The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform submitted FOIA requests to 400 governments statewide - 43 percent of them violated the law by never even responding to the request, according to its April report.

"The result mirrors pre-reform analyses done by The Associated Press and the Better Government Association showing that many of the state's 7,000 units of government don't provide the public with the public records paid for by their tax dollars."

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From the ICPR's April report:

"The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enshrines the idea that government records belong to the people of Illinois. The Act begins with this broad declaration:

Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. (5 ILCS 140/1)

"In practice, the FOIA falls short of the goal of assuring that 'all persons' have 'full and complete information.' The goals of FOIA are blocked by public officials who do not follow, or perhaps do not even know, their obligations under the law. And sometimes the goal of transparency is frustrated by changes to the law that deny the public access to documents for political rather than policy reasons."

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See Rahm's Fake Transparency.

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"In August of 2011, ICPR sent over 400 FOIA requests to units of government around the state. We found units that did not know their obligations under the law, who refused to send records in their possession, and who attempted to charge unauthorized fees. Over 43% of our requests went unanswered, getting no reply at all in clear violation of state law."

*

"In August of 2011, ICPR sent requests under FOIA to over 400 units of government around the state. We have been sending similar requests since 2007 to many of the same units of government. Indeed, some have told us they look forward to our requests every year. These requests are not surprises to most of the recipients. We contacted each unit by telephone in June and July in order to confirm their mailing address and to ask if they accept FOIA requests by e-mail. All told, we sent 187 requests by the US Postal Service, all placed into first class mail on Monday, August 8, and 214 requests by e-mail, sent in two roughly equal batches, at 10 am on Tuesday August 9 and Wednesday, August 10.

"FOIA says that units of government must reply to a request within five days. This reply may be a denial of the request, a full response with requested documents, or they may take one extension if they need additional time to gather requested records. Although not every public body surveyed has contractual lobbyists, each public body is required by law to respond to the request (either with the provided records or explaining that there are no such records to be provided) within the statutory deadline. By law, we should have received correspondence of some kind from all of these units by the end of August.

"In fact, by the end of August we had received correspondence from just 56% of the units to which we has sent requests - a failing measure by any standard. Some types of units were better than others. Convention Centers, which accounted for 13 of the units we surveyed, had sent full replies to our requests from 11 Centers, an 85% response rate. At the other extreme, charter schools, which were a new addition to our search this year, sent full replies only 23% of the time.

"ICPR's findings come just months after state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn approved a rollback to the law, instituting new roadblocks to some FOIA requestors. The new law allows public bodies to delay responding indefinitely to requests made by people who submit a large number of requests for records under FOIA."

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"Six months after the FOIA requests were mailed and e-mailed, we have not received responses from 170 public bodies - over 42.3 percent of the public bodies surveyed overall. Some of these are very large public bodies, including the City of Chicago and Cook County."

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See City Can't Abide Blind Faith In Mayor's Trust.

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"Charter schools had the lowest response rate: only 16 of 108 responded within 10 working days. And six months later, 76.9 percent of charter schools surveyed have yet to respond at all (83 of 108)."

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See Charter Schools Report Card.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on June 18, 2012


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