Champaign Blogger Takes on Legislators Trying to Limit Freedom of Information Requests

Part-Time Pundit John Bambenek is taking on State Senators who are planning to make it much more difficult for anyone not considered “media” to do in-depth research about what local governments do by passing Senate Bill 1655.

Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager

The Northwest Herald’s Kevin Craver writes about the issue, too.  Craver says that Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager, widely talked of as a Republican candidate for State Representative if Jack Franks steps aside, testified in favor of the bill. (Woodstock, by the way, won’t put McHenry County Blog on its press release list. I have to file a Freedom of Information request to obtain them and, then, they come five or more days after issuance.  Woodstock’s lack of transparency will make an interesting campaign issue should Sager take the plunge into legislative politics.)

With permission, I reprint Bambenek’s column of yesterday below:

In Illinois, Public Accountability is “Vexatious”

by John Bambenek

Illinois has long earned the reputation as one of the most corrupt states in the union and for reasons too numerous to list here.

However, not content to have reached rock bottom, the Illinois Municipal League (a collection of local government officials) and Lord State Senator Ed Maloney have decided to start digging.

This week is Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to promoting the cause of governmental transparency. It should come as no surprise that transparency is needed in Illinois. However, the Illinois Municipal League and Lord State Senator Ed Maloney believes that is the problem, not the solution.

They have introduced Senate Bill 1645 which would allow local government officials to label any individual who files more than 15 Freedom of Information Act requests in a year, or more than 5 in a month, “vexatious”.

This would then allow them to summarily reject any and all FOIA’s filed by that person.

There is no judicial review of this designation nor any right to appeal.

You see, us taxpayers who want to know more about our government are annoying so they want to be able to shut us down.

To give you an idea of what kind of politician Lord State Senator Ed Maloney is, he earlier this year was embroiled in a controversy for sponsoring legislation that would require all homeschoolers to register with the government.

His stated purpose was that he was worried that people who homeschool their kids were not accountable to any government officials. You read that right, he views his job as enabling government to hold private citizens accountable for their private conduct.

The bad news is that SB 1645 has already passed out of the Senate Executive Committee (the committee where “important” legislation is considered and fast-tracked) by a 10-4 margin. Disappointly, this included two Republican Senator votes (John O. Jones and Luechtefeld). We can just call this coalition the “Pay up and shut up” Coalition for their support of the public’s right to know.

Interestingly enough, the Illinois Legislature does not publish committee votes without a FOIA (would that be “vexatious” too?).

Apparently 10 Senators believe that the public has a right to know what their tax dollars are being spent on… as long as they don’t want to know too much about how they are being spent.

In a rush to get this bill passed and out the door, Lord State Senator Ed Maloney forgot to put a press exemption so the media won’t be labeled vexatious too. It is a humorous twist to an extremely dangerous law.

Freedom of Information Act laws were passed in the wake of Watergate and, oddly, there is no real requirement for government bodies to give taxpayers and voters information on what the government is doing.

Without these laws, the public would lose a significant tool to force governments to disclose how their money is spent.

Apparently, disclosure of these records is a problem for these government officials at the Illinois Municipal League.

During the hearing, many mayors and other local officials took their sob stories to the Legislature and whined:

  • “It costs too much”,
  • “it takes so much staff time”, and
  • “the taxpayers have to foot the bill for these troublemakers”.

At the same time, this same group opposes Senate Bill 37 which would require units of local government to publish financial information and other documents online thus sparing the expense of FOIA’ing these documents to begin with.

In a state known for corruption, anyone contemplating keeping more records under seal because someone is “too nosey” in how their tax dollars should be spent should be rendered politically radioactive.

It certainly does tell us the level of regard they hold voters in (i.e. not much). However, we shouldn’t expect much better from Chicago Democrats. After all, where do you think the President learned his dedication to transparenct from. His colleagues in the Illinois Senate.

= = = = =
Here is the exception for the media:

“For the purposes of this definition, a request made by news media shall not be considered a vexatious request for records when the principal purpose of the request is (i) to access and disseminate information concerning news and current or passing events or (ii) for articles of opinion or features of interest to the public.”


Champaign Blogger Takes on Legislators Trying to Limit Freedom of Information Requests — 7 Comments

  1. I understand that FOIA can be a pain and there are pains out there who try to bury organizations in FOIAs, but is this really necessary? And 15 per year for crying out loud? I would say “What a joke.” Unfortunately, no one is kidding. I would hope that if this garbage gets out of the legislature that the governor would veto instantly.

    Great maybe to get the votes they need, they will add a provision whereby you and a friend can be charged with conspiracy to commit a vexatious FOIA if you ask someone to submit a FOIA when you exceed your limit. They can make it a class X felony.

  2. Re: “the taxpayers have to foot the bill for these troublemakers”.

    “troublemakers” – okay which twit labeled the people who create FOIA’s “troublemakers”?

    Put in a law that says a person can only submit x number of FOIAs during such and such time period and I will show you a lot of other people who will then file FOIA’s to get around such babyish rules. Picture those headlines! Picture the cost of trying to fill all those requests.

    If entities refuse to cough up the public info, the taxpayers aren’t the “bad guys”, those running the entities are the “bad guys”.

  3. Cal, I hate to be the one to tell you, but you are not media. Now, that’s not Gus speaking. That’s Rich Flood, City Attorney for Woodstock, and speaking for Woodstock.

    When I tried to get the Woodstock PD Crime Reports on a daily basis for a different blog I had started in Woodstock, dedicated to reporting crime quickly to our residents, the City refused. Rich, writing as City Attorney for Woodstock, informed me that “blogs” were not media. The Act does not use the word “blog”.

    The Act does include “electronic media”, but Woodstock took a stand on the absence of the word “blog” in the Act.

    Maybe this is why crime is so low in Woodstock. Since it’s not fully reported, it doesn’t occur.

  4. Dee & Alan – Do you have any idea how much taxpayer money is wasted when the info is not available?? When the cat is away —-

  5. “Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager, widely talked of as a Republican candidate for State Representative if Jack Franks steps aside”

    I nearly choked on my TV Dinner when I read that.
    Brian Sager, Republican candidate for State Representative?

    Who is he going to represent? He is not very “representative” of the majority of folks in McHenry County, at least not 90% of us.

    No, if that happens, it will be time for the Tea Party to become a real Party and leave the Republican party to the RINOs.

  6. I would take this Bambenek guy a bit more seriously if he would use the man’s proper title instead of calling him “Lord State Senator.” You want to be treated like a journalist? Write and act like one. That said, trying to limit FOIA requests is a total crock.

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