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Letter: Another perspective on FOIA

Published: Friday, Jan. 31, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:44 a.m. CDT
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To the Editor:

In a recent Community Voice column John Quigley asked the question “What is FOIA?” I would like to offer another perspective. The purpose of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act is to increase transparency and accountability at all levels of government. FOIA exists to promote the fundamentals of our democracy by mandating that information about public business be made timely available to the public. The presumption of FOIA is that all records that contain public business are presumed open and accessible to the public unless a government body chooses to invoke one or more specific limited exception(s).

It is important to note that the use of an exception is not mandatory; it is a choice the government body makes. Once a government body takes an exception, it is charged with overcoming the presumption of disclosure by making a clear and convincing argument (a legal standard) as to why the exception applies. When the Illinois General Assembly passed FOIA reform in 2009, it unequivocally stated that the public policy of Illinois is that everyone is entitled to full and complete information about government affairs, acts, and policies so that they can discuss public issues, make informed judgments, and monitor the government.

In a democracy part of the cost of doing government business is complying with FOIA. The strategy to lessen that cost should not be to shame or bully people but rather to make more information available. More government bodies, like Elmhurst, are using websites to post routine public documents to alleviate “make work” situations. They can also prevent “make work” situations by surveying the public to determine what other documents they should post online. The more effort public bodies proactively take, the less cost due to FOIA requests, with the added benefit of circumventing public skepticism.

Andrea Alvarez, Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst

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