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Quinn talks accountability, abets secrecy

Administration stonewalls on FOIA requests

Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – Kudos to Gov. Pat Quinn.

The governor vetoed a measure that would greatly restrict an ordinary citizen’s ability to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

I don’t agree with the governor on a lot of things, but this veto was the proper response to a very bad bill that would have charged ordinary citizens fees as great as $100 if they file requests for large documents or make multiple requests in a short period of time.

Sometimes government officials forget just who they work for.

The FOIA is a powerful tool. During the course of my journalism career, I have filed more than 5,000 FOIA requests with more than 1,000 governmental entities. And I’ve uncovered a great deal of waste, fraud and abuse.

In the years I was a city hall reporter, I saw plenty of instances where those in power gave ordinary citizens the brush-off.

Folks who showed up at city council meetings to listen and speak at the end were labeled “cranks.”

Those who filed FOIA requests were called troublemakers.

But let’s not forget that government belongs to the people, not the bureaucrats.

Our lawmakers lost sight of that during the waning days of this year’s legislative session and approved a bill that penalizes citizens for filing FOIA requests.

We should be encouraging ordinary people to find out more about their government, not discouraging it.

Here is whatQuinn had to say in his veto message:

“House Bill 3796 is a bill that reduces government transparency by limiting the ability of citizens to seek public records under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill as proposed would make it more difficult for citizens to obtain a large volume of records. It would also slow down the process for individuals who lack electronic means to request or obtain information. Such burdens on the public penalize anyone seeking to learn more about their government.”

So, our governor deserves our praise for vetoing this measure.

But I only wish he would practice what he preaches.

On Dec. 12, 2012, I filed a request with the Illinois Department of Corrections seeking documents relating to how well (or poorly) the state spends our money when providing health services to inmates.

I’m still waiting for the Quinn administration to turn over the documents.

After stonewalling my requests, the administration is now fighting it in court. No telling how much in tax dollars it is spending to just to keep these documents secret.

I also filed a FOIA on Oct. 15, 2013, for copies of some emails the governor’s Office of Management and Budget sent and received during a 6-week period.

The administration is digging in its heels and not releasing those documents either.

So we are fighting it out in court.

What is the administration hiding?

We won’t know until the documents are turned over.

One thing is clear.

While the Quinn administration talks about openness and government transparency, it doesn’t always practice it.

Note to readers: Scott Reeder's column is underwritten by the Illinois Policy Institute.

 

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