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FOIA and FOIA Letter

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    Posted: 30/December/2009 at 7:53pm
I am posting a letter I sent to the Forest Park Review. For some unknown reason, my name was left off in today's print version.


If FOIA wasn’t already broken in Forest Park before, it is now.

To recap, FOIA or “Freedom of Information Act” is a legal mechanism that allows public access to information retained by governmental agencies. One simply makes a written request and if the information is not of a sensitive nature and specifically restricted by law, it is to be handed over.

Like most people, I learned about Gaetano’s restaurant fence/addition and the “no harm, no foul” comment by Village Administrator Tim Gillian in the October Forest Park Review article. I was curious how the construction process went from a fence to a full-blown addition so I FOIAed “all” of the construction related documents from last January to the present.

I received the reports from the June 15th Zoning hearing and the July 13th Council meeting approving the fence, a couple permit applications and a set of drawings created September 17, 2009, well after the construction was completed.

Conspicuously missing were any inspection reports or other communications from the Building Department. This was extremely unusual and something was not right but what was I to do? It’s a lengthy and time-consuming process to contest the issue so I let it go.

Not long after, Gaetano’s illegal addition came before the Zoning Board of Appeals for zoning relief and was rejected amidst a cloud of questions about how the Village allowed the construction to occur. The heat was on.

On December 16th another article about Gaetano’s appeared in the Review. This one cited some mysterious and apparently meaningless construction documents I did not receive. What’s this? Why did I not get these? Why are they now showing them to the Review?

I contacted the author, Josh Adams and asked if I could see the additional documents. Mr. Adams stated that he only viewed them on a visit to Village Hall and did not get copies.

As I said in the beginning, If FOIA wasn’t already broken in Forest Park before, it is now. Steve Backman gets one set of documents, Mr. Adams, another. I guess everything from Village Hall is selectively edited and we will never get the truth, the whole truth and ……

Steven Backman
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FP Property Owner Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30/December/2009 at 11:02pm
Originally posted by backman backman wrote:

I am posting a letter I sent to the Forest Park Review. For some unknown reason, my name was left off in today's print version.


If FOIA wasn’t already broken in Forest Park before, it is now.

To recap, FOIA or “Freedom of Information Act” is a legal mechanism that allows public access to information retained by governmental agencies. One simply makes a written request and if the information is not of a sensitive nature and specifically restricted by law, it is to be handed over.

Like most people, I learned about Gaetano’s restaurant fence/addition and the “no harm, no foul” comment by Village Administrator Tim Gillian in the October Forest Park Review article. I was curious how the construction process went from a fence to a full-blown addition so I FOIAed “all” of the construction related documents from last January to the present.

I received the reports from the June 15th Zoning hearing and the July 13th Council meeting approving the fence, a couple permit applications and a set of drawings created September 17, 2009, well after the construction was completed.

Conspicuously missing were any inspection reports or other communications from the Building Department. This was extremely unusual and something was not right but what was I to do? It’s a lengthy and time-consuming process to contest the issue so I let it go.

Not long after, Gaetano’s illegal addition came before the Zoning Board of Appeals for zoning relief and was rejected amidst a cloud of questions about how the Village allowed the construction to occur. The heat was on.

On December 16th another article about Gaetano’s appeared in the Review. This one cited some mysterious and apparently meaningless construction documents I did not receive. What’s this? Why did I not get these? Why are they now showing them to the Review?

I contacted the author, Josh Adams and asked if I could see the additional documents. Mr. Adams stated that he only viewed them on a visit to Village Hall and did not get copies.

As I said in the beginning, If FOIA wasn’t already broken in Forest Park before, it is now. Steve Backman gets one set of documents, Mr. Adams, another. I guess everything from Village Hall is selectively edited and we will never get the truth, the whole truth and ……

Steven Backman



Steven,

I think a lot of this is going to change and change fast with the New IL FOIA laws going into effect in January. If the village continues to give different responses to people for the same requests and we file a complaint with Lisa Madigan's office as we will be allowed to due the village will have to answer. I am very much encouraged by the new laws and policies set by her. I don't think the village is going to want them digging to deep so should be more forward, responsive, and open in the future. If her office starts digging who knows what else they will find. Should be quite interesting.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote citizen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30/December/2009 at 11:22pm

hat tip to your hope and enthusiasm.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote watcher Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31/December/2009 at 6:17am
Is the law clear and unambiguous? Do the new rules apply to past records or just those going forward?

"It is a wreave belief that we already are in Hell."- Tuluk in Frank Herbert's "Whipping Star"
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote FP Property Owner Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31/December/2009 at 7:01am
Originally posted by watcher watcher wrote:

Is the law clear and unambiguous? Do the new rules apply to past records or just those going forward?



My understanding is the FOIA request has to be filed after January 1, 2010 for the new rules to apply as they have changed the response time frames and costs the governmental entity is allowed to charge. So if you filed a request in 2009 you will have to refile the initial request in 2010.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote piehead Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31/December/2009 at 8:51am
As I posted in another thread.....Let's hope that Vanessa and the folks in the class took good notes
FOIA transparancy
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Mr. D Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02/January/2010 at 12:30pm
A few facts on the new FOIA law, gleaned from the IL Atty General's (IAG) website. Those interested can go to the website at:

http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/foia_educationalmaterials.html

Public Records are defined in FOIA as “all records, reports, forms, writings, letters, memoranda, books, papers, maps, photographs, microfilms, cards, tapes, recordings, electronic data processing records, electronic communications, recorded information and all other documentary materials pertaining to the transaction of public business, regardless of physical form or characteristics, having been prepared by or for, or having been or being used by, received by, in the possession of, or under the control of any public body.”

A few examples of public records available under FOIA are: orders; rules; reports or studies; contracts; names, titles and salaries of public employees; and the voting records of public bodies.

Information can be available in electronic as well as paper format.

There is no fee for up to 50 pages of standard paper copies. For pages numbering beyond 50, there is a .15-cent-per-page charge.

Q: "What is the incentive for a public body to respond to my request within 5 business days (or 10 business days if extended)? "
A: "Aside from the potential that a court ultimately could impose a civil penalty of between $2,500 and $5,000 per violation, public bodies have an additional incentive to respond within the time limits set forth. In the event a public body fails to respond within 5 business days, it cannot charge for reproduction costs at a later time or treat the request as unduly burdensome. "

Q: "Can a public body allow you to inspect but not copy public documents? "
A: "No. They must allow you to inspect and obtain copies of public documents." In another part, the IGA advises applicants need only state whether they would like copies of the requested records, or wish to examine the records in person. "You have the right to do either," the IAG states.

Q: "Can a public body require that a FOIA request must be submitted on a certain form or in a certain format? "
A: "No. Public bodies can require that FOIA requests be submitted in writing, but they must
accept requests by mail, personal delivery, fax, e-mail, or other means available. While public bodies may offer a form for FOIA requests, they cannot require that you use a specific form to make your request."

Q: "Can the public body ask me why I want the information?"
A: "No, except to determine if the request is for commercial reasons. See below for more details on commercial requests."

Q: "Can the public body charge for copies?"
A: "Yes, but the fees are limited. For black and white, letter or legal sized copies (8 1⁄2 x 11 or 11 x 14), the first 50 pages are free, and any additional pages can cost no more than 15 cents a page.   For color copies or abnormal size copies, the public body can charge the actual cost of copying."   

REDACTIONS

Q: "Can a public body remove or black out information from produced documents? "
A: "Yes, if a record contains information that is exempt from disclosure under FOIA, a public body can remove or black out that exempt information from the public records. This is called “redaction.” But the public body must produce the remaining information. "

Q: "Is there any information that a public body MUST withhold or redact?
A: "Although there may be legitimate reasons to redact or withhold certain types of information, the only information that the Freedom of Information Act requires a public body to redact are the home addresses, home/private telephone numbers and social security numbers of employees noted on certified payroll records that are required to be submitted to a public body under the Prevailing Wage Act.   

The following are instructions on how to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Office of the Illinois Attorney General:

Please make your request for records in writing. The Office of the Illinois Attorney General does not require the completion of a standard form for this purpose. You may submit your written request by mail, fax or email. Please direct your request to:

FOIA Officer - John Costello
Public Access Bureau
Office of the Illinois Attorney General
500 S. Second Street
Springfield, IL 62706
Fax: (217) 782-1396
Email: publicaccess@atg.state.il.us

Please be as specific as possible when describing the records you are seeking. Remember, the Freedom of Information Act is designed to allow you to inspect or receive copies of records. It is not designed to require a public body to answer questions.
To the extent that you wish to ask questions of a representative of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General, you may call our Springfield Main Office at (217) 782-1090, our Chicago Main Office at (312) 814-3000, or our Carbondale Main Office at (618) 529-6400, to be directed to the proper person.

You are permitted to ask for a waiver of copying fees. To do so, please include the following statement (or a similar statement) in your written FOIA request: “I request a waiver of all fees associated with this request.” In addition, you must include a specific explanation as to why your request for information is in the public interest—not simply your personal interest—and merits a fee waiver.

Please include your name, preferred telephone number(s), mailing address, and, if you wish, your electronic mail address.

If a member of the public believes that a public body has improperly denied his or her FOIA request, or that a public body has violated OMA in the way that it conducted, or failed to conduct, a public meeting, then the member of the public may submit a Request for Review to the PAC.
In the case of FOIA, the Request for Review is a formal way of asking the PAC to take a look at the original FOIA request, as well asthe public body’s response, and determine if a FOIA violation has occurred. In the case of OMA, the Request for Review is a formal way of asking the PAC to determine if the actions of the public body in connection with a public meeting violated OMA. (5 ILCS 140/9.5(a); 5 ILCS 120/3.5(a))

The Request for Review must be made in writing, be signed by the requester, and include a summary of the facts supporting the allegation. In a FOIA Request for Review, the member of the public must also include a copy of the original FOIA request and any responses from the public body. (5 ILCS 140/9.5(a), (b); 5 ILCS 120.3.5(a)) A Request for Review must be submitted to the PAC within 60 calendar days after the denial of the FOIA request or the conduct that is alleged to have violated OMA. (5 ILCS140/9.5(a); 5 ILCS 120/3.5(a))

A Request for Review may be submitted to the PAC by either electronic mail or U.S. Mail. By U.S. Mail, please address it to:
Cara Smith
Public Access Counselor
Office of the Attorney General
500 S. 2nd Street
Springfield, Illinois 62706

To submit a Request for Review by electronic mail, please e-mail the request to Cara Smith, Public Access Counselor, at: publicaccess@atg.state.il.us.

The Request for Review does not need to follow any particular format.
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

-James Madison
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