Make use of the new FOIA

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

Recently Gov. Pat Quinn signed long overdue legislation to increase transparency in government across the state.

A Web site called Accountability.Illinois.gov was launched to accomplish the goal of greater transparency.

This legislation strengthens the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and will help make the state’s boards and commissions more open.

If the state had such safeguards in place earlier, perhaps, the misdeeds of our ousted Gov. “Lightning” Rod Blagojevich would have come to light earlier.

“The people of Illinois deserve an open, ethical and transparent government,” Quinn said.

Darn right they do.

“This legislation provides greater oversight to ensure our government complies whenever possible with the Freedom of Information Act, protects the integrity of our boards and commissions and makes state government more accountable to the people we serve,” Quinn said.

The words “more accountable to the people we serve” are welcome to Illinoisans weary of the political games endured for so many decades.

Under this legislation the attorney general’s office decides disputes between those requesting information and governmental bodies.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has proven herself a fair arbiter of many issues. These decisions appear to rest in good hands.

“Today, Illinois comes out of the Stone Age and into the modern era of transparency and openness,” Madigan said.

“By creating a public access counselor with binding opinion authority to fight for an open and accountable government, Illinois is now at the nation’s forefront. With this new law, the people of Illinois will now have a greater ability to know what their government is doing.”

In addition, fines for noncompliance have been strengthened.

That, too, is long overdue.

In the past, public bodies from one end of the state to the other have stalled citizens, the media and even other public officials without much worry.

A violation, if proven, came with few, if any consequences.

Equally important is the fact that the legislation also allows fewer exemptions to the act and shortens the time for a government to respond to a request.

Gov. Quinn also signed Senate Bill 1602 establishing strict ethics requirements and restrictions for current and prospective members of state boards and commissions appointed by the governor.

A Web site — Appointments.Illinois.gov — provides information about board and commission membership. The Web site allows Illinois citizens to access information about membership and vacancies in the state’s 300 boards and commissions and fill out online applications for those appointments.

It is too early to say whether this legislation will lead Illinois to better and more accountable government.

Do not be satisfied with just the promise of more openness. Demand it by testing the law. Make FOIA requests. One thing is for sure — these tools will be meaningless unless the people take advantage of them. You now have better tools. Participate in crafting a better government with them.