Public cannot trust officials to be open
A recent investigation by Times Newspapers found that eight of 11 public bodies in Woodford, Peoria and Tazewell counties failed to comply with the state’s new Freedom of Information Act. That is a dismal record. (See story on Page A6)
When public officials — the very people who make the local ordinances we have to live under — fail to abide by state law they should be ashamed. Some of the public officials contacted about this story offered reasons why they were not in compliance. Some were ignorant of the law.
“It doesn’t look too hard. I just didn’t know we had to do all of this,” said Monica Camper, deputy village clerk for Metamora.
Others were having problems gathering the information.
“We do plan on getting into compliance. I hope within a month to get all that information out there,” said, Debbie Ulrich, FOIA coordinator for Woodford County.
These are not people who are willfully ignoring the law. They do not deserve to be stomped on.
But, claiming ignorance of a new speed limit will not get you out of a ticket in Metamora.
And, try claiming you plan to comply with some county ordinance within a month and see where that gets you. What it will get you is a stern rebuke and very likely a fine.
Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, made a telling comment when made aware of this situation.
“It’s a training and awareness issue. Your findings show a need to educate by the attorney general’s office, the Illinois Municipal League and our organization,” DeRossett said. “We probably all need to work to make (public bodies) more aware of it. These people have just fallen through the cracks.”
This situation shows one thing very clearly. No one can just assume public officials — even with their attorneys and staff — are going to do the right thing or even know what the right thing is.
Good government flows not just from officials. It comes from public involvement as well. The public has a huge stake in the outcome of governmental decisions. The public needs to be familiar with these laws. Too many of our public officials, it seems, are not.