Illinois (ECWd) –
Governor Rauner took office on January 12, 2015. Ten days later, he instituted directives that some would consider police state tactics for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and the requestors. When these directives leaked to the public, his office tried to hide the policy from the public. An FOIA for the directives by Andrew Garrett, with Garrett Discovery, a forensic investigation company, was met with his office citing exemptions that the courts later confirmed are not legal exemptions. We understand they have not yet recieved the records ordered to be turned over.
Why did the Governor fight the release of these directives?
Politics over Governance
We obtained the very records in question in a recent FOIA.
It’s clear, certain records and requestors faced hidden directives that are most troubling in our Constitutional Republic.
- “…any notable FOIA requests, particularly those that might relate to journalistic investigations or result in public attention.”
It appears clear, matters that would result in public attention was a concern. I guess he and his lawyers failed to understand public records belong to the “public”. His directive was more about protecting his public image than it was about the governance of our state.
We searched and could not find “notable” as a definition of any particular FOIA request. Considering the lawyers failed to define what a “notable FOIA request” is, maybe that explains part of why this state is in the mess it’s in.
More concerning, why would “who” requested the information matter? A public record is a public record regardless of who requested it, however, in the case of Governor Rauner, journalistic investigation FOIA requests or those that may result in public attention are treated differently.
One disturbing criterion outlined in these directives was his office wanting; “background context about the requestor”.
For those that are not aware, it is totally inappropriate for a unit of government to seek background context about the people requesting public records. There is no such provision in the law that permits this type of activity and the lawyers that participated in this directive should have informed the Governor this is an overreach and has nothing to do with FOIA compliance.
The question that must be answered is what does a requestor’s background context have to do with determining if a record is, in fact, subject to release under our Illinois FOI Act? Was this background information the building of an enemies list? Was it to be used as leverage against a requestor?
The directives issued by the Governor, the first in January of 2015 and the second the following month, provides an example of how our Governor took immediate steps to put himself and his image ahead of actually governing the State of Illinois.
The first policy had a heading of RED FLAG ISSUES that required immediate communication with the Governor’s Office. One of those was “FOIA requests concerning any sensitive information”, however nowhere in the directive did it define what “sensitive information” is.
The undefined “Red Flag Issues” had additional directives.
“Please await final sign-off from the Governor’s Office FOIA Officer before sending out a response.”
So rather than state agencies appointing an FOIA officer and complying with FOIA as outlined by law, they were directed to funnel FOIA requests from Journalistic investigations and requests that might raise “heightened public interest” to his office for a final sign-off from the Governors Office.
I don’t know about all the other media outlets in this state and country, but for us, these directives are a direct attack on our rights as citizens to have unfettered access to our public records. Additionally, a Constitutional Republic thrives on heightened public interest which spurs debate and inclusion of We The People.
When Benjamin Franklin was asked that famous question, “what have we got, a republic or a monarchy”, he responded, “A republic if you can keep it.”
The only way we can keep it is to be involved and informed of all matters of public interest no matter who is asking for it and how sensitive our elected officials feel that information may be.
While our elected officials on both sides of the political isle play games and focus on their own interests and continue to divide this great nation, We The People demand Governance over politics.
The Governor and his legal team that helped create these directives pertaining to FOIA should be ashamed.Agency Legal Reporting Guidelines - 1-22-2015
FOIA Reporting Guidelines