FOIAs: another step of accontabiliity and transparency

I have heard some rumors of FOIA activity in regards to the school district. Instead of propagating rumors, I am going to see what comes out in the public sphere. I have also asked 1) if the school district is currently publishing all FOIA responses, and 2) if not, will they consider it. I have since learned the answer to the first question is no – I am now waiting on the second question.

The University has a very nice FOIA page (a whole subdomain dedicated to FOIA):

I really love how they set the tone:

“The goal of the FOIA request log is transparency for the public and increased understanding of the FOIA process and timelines.”

The University FOIA homepage says:

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to government documents and records. The new Illinois FOIA notes that it is “the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”

That last sentence is a kicker – wow. That’s right, you and I have a duty, and it is to talk about these public issues, make informed decisions and monitor government to make sure they are doing what we want them to do. Now how often does that actually happen?

So my question to you – in the grand scheme of things, how important is a FOIA index? Something I should push hard for? Or just send occasional requests? Surely there are “big issues” on the plate, and I am not sure this is one of them. However, from my point of view, it seems like low-hanging fruit that would be easy to knock out without much overhead at all.

8 Responses to “FOIAs: another step of accontabiliity and transparency”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Here is the Champaign County FOIA web site. Note that there is no listing of FOIAed requests/documents.

  2. Chuck Jackson Says:

    I think we’re asking the wrong question. Rather than ask, “Why should we do this?” We could be asking, “What are we trying to hide?”

    There is no reason (or intent) to keep things secret, the reason many things don’t come to light (and need to be requested via FOIA) is because the information was never prepared for public viewing. As soon as anything is prepared for any public eyes, all eyes should have access to it. There is no additional effort, there is no added expense. In short, there is no excuse for why any FOIAed information isn’t immediately posted for all. Though I can’t think of any, there are undoubtedly exceptions to this rule, in these cases the request can be posted alongside the explanation for why it is an exception to the rule.

    Yes the district should have an index of all FOIA requests along with links to the prepared documents those requests produced.

  3. Karen Says:

    ‘I have heard some rumors of FOIA activity in regards to the school district. Instead of propagating rumors, I am going to see what comes out in the public sphere.’

    And if nothing comes out in the public sphere, will you later share what you heard? ‘Clarification’ sometimes follows quickly when a ‘rumor’ has some light shone it’s way.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    @karen: yes indeed. One of them should be in the NG soon. 🙂 The others I am keeping tabs on; my priority is to find out what is true, first.

    Nobody wants to vote on how important a FOIA index is, though. Maybe I need another “top 5 issues” poll….

  5. AlisonC Says:

    Last I checked, the University FOIA log only posted FOIA requests after the university had responded to them–and the log only shows whether the request was granted or denied, without including the actual documents that were shared with the requestor. It’s not clear to me how important it is for us to know what information other people have asked for, unless we think the News-Gazette and Charles don’t know the right questions to ask but other people do.

    Chuck claims there’s no additional effort to post all the FOIA stuff, but at a bare minimum, there’s the effort of posting all this information and, in some cases, editing it. For example, one of the responses on the U of I log for a FOIA request from a private individual has the individual’s mailing address blacked out while the e-mail address is left visible. Someone had to make a judgment call there; judgment calls may involve lawyer time. How about a FOIA request where a person mentions private information such as student grades or employee medical information, or a person requests emails containing keywords related to a rumored reason why an employee may have been fired? A UHS teacher was recently fired for allegations of inappropriate (criminal) conduct with one of her students–after she was arrested–but what about a FOIA requesting information about close contact between some completely innocent teacher and student where the FOIA request is essentially slander?

    I’m not advocating secrecy, but I don’t think a list of questions people have asked is incredibly important. I *do* appreciate the information shared here–I came to this site tonight to see which elementaries ended up with a 4th kindergarten class for 2013-2014, because that information is not on the Unit 4 webpage although it should be.

  6. Chuck Jackson Says:

    Just to clarify, once the effort is made to create the FOIA response for the FOIA requester, “There is no additional effort” to post it for all. The lawyer time is already done at that point. Obviously there is the time for someone to create the link and post, etc, etc. but I see that effort as trivial logistics, not thought oriented, expertise dependent (read expensive) effort.

  7. News-Gazette article about the Board | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] is one of the rumors I hinted at earlier. I have a number of issues with this, but I fear I have not fully gelled my […]

  8. Things keep hopping | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] regards to the FOIAs I heard about earlier, I am still trying to ferret out the truth and not depend solely on rumors. I have heard that some […]

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