Illinois is where FOIA requests go to die, group alleges
Illinoisans hoping to get information from the government through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests often give up or forget because the requests take so long to come through -- if they ever do, a government watchdog group said recently.
The Better Government Association (BGA) said its investigation has found that a lengthy appeals process and non-binding decisions have left appeals in limbo, with "no end in sight." The BGA cited an FOIA request by the heads of the Chicago-based non-profit Illinois Policy Institute regarding a 2012 case.
Kirk Allen and John Kraft wanted to look into possible wrongdoing among Illinois State police officers after Edgar County corrections officers were convicted of having sexual relations with inmates. They hoped to look into recorded interviews with inmates and other data that could be critical to uncovering further abuse and wrongdoing. Allen and Kraft filed an FOIA request and have heard nothing from the state police in more than four years.
“A delay is the same as a denial,” Allen said.
After Allen and Kraft filed an appeal, the state counselor – an office set up specifically to handle such cases – issued a non-binding opinion in 2015 advising the state police to release the information. In other words, Allan and Kraft contend, the police were free to withhold the requested material, and to date, they have.
The state counselor's office was "designed to provide legal heft for average citizens or even media that lacked deep pockets to bankroll court challenges in disputes with government bodies over release of public records," the BGA says. The office was established in 2010 and says it has handled nearly 30,000 appeals. The BGA says 4,500 such appeals remain pending.