Edgar Co. (ECWd) –
The bottom line, to us, is access to public records, and all the public records we ask for, in a timely manner. Period.
So what does a person do when faced with public bodies that invent reasons to hide public records, provide only a portion of the records requested, or simply fail to answer a request for records?
One avenue of recourse is to file what is called a “Request for Review” with the Illinois Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor’s Office. It doesn’t cost the individual citizen any money to go thru this process and let the AG’s office determine if a violation of the Freedom of Information Act has occurred. But as old sayings go, “nothing is free“, or, “you get what you pay for.”
The initial idea behind the Request for Review process was admirable in that it allowed a citizen to enforce his rights to public records without burdening the Court systems and without the added costs of an attorney or court costs and fees. The AG’s office has fallen so far behind on their determinations that this process is no longer a viable option for anyone who wants public records within any reasonable amount of time.
As a recent example, Kirk Allen, just this week received a determination made by the AG that he was improperly denied access to public records from the Illinois State Police. He requested those record in 2012 – no that is not a typo “2012“. There are others from 2012 and 2013 that have still not been determined. That is not the intent of the Freedom of Information Act and no person should have to wait 1, 2, 3, or more years to receive records they have a statutory right to have.
The second option is to file suit in Circuit Court and is generally the last option when all other options fail, or when a public body will not comply with the law. When this happens, the public body generally figures out they are wrong and provides the records to settle the case out of court, but in some instances they continue to fight to keep the records secret. This fight can go on for years and become quite expensive with the public body trying to convince people we are “costing them money” when the reality is the public body is costing their own taxpayers money by trying to keep public records from the public. The amount of time and money spent should indicate the level of fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds the public body is trying to keep secret.
For the most part, the process of court action provides access to public records in far shorter times than going thru the AG’s office.
That is why we use the court system instead of the AG’s system – both are authorized by FOIA, just that the courts are generally faster.
The same holds true for Open Meetings Act violations, generally by the time the AG makes a determination it is moot. We have several OMA complaints going back more than a year. Is that justice?