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July 18, 2024

NIU slammed by State Auditor for FOIA and Records Retention Noncompliance –

By John Kraft & Kirk Allen

On April 21, 2017

Northern Illinois University – (ECWd) –

Is it better for a state agency to misrepresent its practices to the Office of the Auditor General or to the Public Access Bureau of the Attorney General’s office?  That is the dilemma in which Northern Illinois University (NIU) finds itself.

Although NIU’s President Doug Baker once claimed a slogan of Accountability, Clarity, and Transparency for the University, NIU is apparently still struggling with the transparency part.  NIU’s FY16 Compliance Audit was released by the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) on March 29th and; included in the audit is the finding 2016-008 titled “Noncompliance with the Freedom of Information and Record Retentions Act”.  This finding begins with “Northern Illinois University (University) did not respond fully to Freedom of Information request and did not retain documents in accordance with the Records Retention Act and its own policies” and is later summarized by “Not supplying complete responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and the failure to properly retain records results in noncompliance with State law and decreases the University’s transparency.”  

NIU did not challenge the OAG’s finding; the response provided to the OAG by Shyree Sanan, Controller, states “The University accepts the Auditor’s recommendation.  The University has dedicated a full-time employee to manage the FOIA response process….  Note the wording.  Has—as in place now.  Dedicated a full-time employee—not dedicated a full-time equivalent.  President Baker signed off on the audit including the responses to the findings.

But does this dedicated full-time employee actually exist anywhere but in the response to the OAG?  Apparently not when the FOIA office wants to deny a request.    In an April 7th response to a FOIA Request for Review, Mr. Tom O’Grady, NIU Assistant General Counsel, wrote:

The NIU FOIA office is primarily staffed by two individuals – Ms. Joan Laurino, with support from Mr. Matt Cabrera.  Both Ms. Laurino and Mr. Cabrera have duties and responsibilities to Northern Illinois University that are beyond just the FOIA duties they maintain.

If NIU is stating to the PAC/AG that both of these employees have duties and responsibilities to NIU that are beyond the FOIA duties, what happened to the “dedicated full-time employee to manage the FOIA response process” as claimed by NIU in their response to the OAG? 

Where does the truth lie?  Did NIU deliberately misstate to the OAG or to the PAC/AG?  Or is NIU just incapable of any truthful response under the current administration?
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