SB 189 > Public Act 096-0542

Gov. Quinn signed Senate Bill 189, the upgrade to FOIA. The full text can be read at this link. It takes effect January 1, 2010. It seemed to take him a while to get around to signing it but I see that his office created a new Web site which is here: http://accountability.illinois.gov/.

This is very important legislation, important enough to throw a party. There should be a FOIA-writing party on the afternoon of January 1, 2010. Continue reading SB 189 > Public Act 096-0542

FOIA Request Rejection & Appeal

Kay’s post about Governor Quinn’s signing the new, improved FOIA legislation is great news, but comes too late to help with this current and ongoing situation.

Let’s start with a recap of events. I have been trying to obtain, via the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), ReNew:DeKalb meeting minutes. Re:New, as a private organization, does not have to respond under FOIA directly; however, a provision of its contract with the City of DeKalb requires it to submit certain documents to the city. Here is the provision of the Re:New contract (p. 249) upon which I have based my requests:

SUBMISSION OF ANNUAL BUDGET, AUDITOR’S REPORT & MEETING MINUTES: ReNew DeKalb shall annually submit a copy of their approved annual budget and Auditor’s Report and copies of any board meeting minutes of any meeting where the receipt or use of City funding is discussed or acted upon within thirty (30) days of the approval of such documents.

“City funding” is not specific to Re:New’s annual allocation. It includes the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) monies, too. The Egyptian Theatre has the same provision in its contract with DeKalb (p. 242) and its allocation is TIF funding (p. 237). Re:New is all about TIF, from the Architectural Improvement Program (AIP) to special projects like the skating rink. In fact, it would be surprising to find out that there are any Re:New meetings whatsoever that don’t discuss some aspect of the use of city funding. BTW, this has Open Meetings Act implications, too, but that’s a separate complaint. Continue reading FOIA Request Rejection & Appeal

Cook County Transparency

Did you read the title twice? It’s certainly something for the “strange but true” column: Cook County as potential role model for DeKalb County. Cook County Commissioner Tony Paraica is now hosting a website called CookEmployees.com. All 25,000-plus Cook County employees are listed by name, title, department, salary and hire date in a database that is searchable alphabetically or by department or salary range.

My Fault

The DeKalb Rescue Me Now website notes that there is a growing call for putting citizens’ comments near the end of Council meetings instead of the beginning, as happens now.

It used to be this way, but changed almost a year and a half ago when residents, including myself, called for a change:

Look at standard procedure at council meetings: The ordinance comes up for discussion; residents speak for three minutes each; the council immediately votes without further consideration or response to speakers’ pleas. Ditto the satisfaction level for the “citizens’ comments” session that, incidentally, occurs just about when everybody’s pulling their coats on. It disgruntles the speechifying residents. “Re-gruntling” grows less likely over time.

Mayor Van Buer set to changing the order of Citizens Comments right away, though almost immediately you could spot the disadvantage. With the old way, if you had filled out the Speakers’ Request form, you had the opportunity not only to speak to the issue you had arrived with, you could also comment on actions taken earlier in the evening if you had time left over. Continue reading My Fault

Chicago’s TIF Sunshine Ordinance

Ald. Manny Flores on TIF

Long before workers occupied the Windows & Doors factory, the company received $10 million in TIF funding from the city years ago. Following that, Aldermen Manny Flores (1st Ward) and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), worked on developing a new ordinance on TIF transparency. It eventually passed the City Council and Mayor Daley signed it. It will appear as part of the Chicago City Codes Web sites July 30th. That site is not easily linked from another Web site. So, inside the scroll box on the Progress Illinois Web site is the ordinance as originally introduced back in February.

Breakfast and FOIA with the Attorney General

Attorney General Lisa Madigan gave an overview of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and proposed changes at a breakfast by the Better Government Association.
Better Government Association logo

The room in the Union League of Chicago was a little dark, perhaps because bright lights would not be friendly to the artwork on the walls. None of my pictures came out very well; I meant this picture to be a test with the lighting. The proposed changes appear in SB 189 and await the signature of Governor Pat Quinn. See the bottom of this article for how to find the text of the bill: http://www.daily-chronicle.com/articles/2009/06/05/16359524/

This is my summary of the handout “Key Components of Transparency Legislation Senate Bill 189” provided by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General on what the bill proposes:

Give the Attorney General’s Office the authority to assign fines for non-compliance
Create a process for FOIA requests, $2,500 to $5,000
Create an environment with the presumption of transparency
Requires that a response be given within five business days instead of seven
Establishes a Public Access Counselor in the Attorney General’s office to determine if documents should be released under FOIA or denied
The Public Access Counselor would also assist in determining if a public body violated the Open Meetings Act
Makes exemptions to FOIA more clear
Limits the charge on copy costs to the first 50 pages free and $.15 per page thereafter
If a citizen sues to get FOIA access, and wins, attorney fees will be reimbursed
Requires annual FOIA and Open Meetings Act training

A panel of speakers discussed the merits of the bill and any flaws. Continue reading Breakfast and FOIA with the Attorney General

EPI Letter

Appearing today in the Chronicle:

To the editor:

In a controversial action late last year, the city of DeKalb hired a financial consultant, Executive Partners Inc., to analyze our finances and make recommendations for putting the city on better financial footing.

EPI’s evaluation, “Strategic Financial Evaluation & Planning Process,” was distributed to council members May 1. (It can be picked up at the Municipal Building or found online at www.cityofdekalb.com.) The report contains an analysis, an action plan and a list of 10 priorities meant for implementation as soon as possible.

You’d think the priority items, at least, would have been placed immediately on the DeKalb City Council agenda for consideration due to the potential for substantial savings in fiscal year 2010. Instead, a backroom decision was made to defer discussion until after the budget was approved. Continue reading EPI Letter

Trib: “Your Government in Secret”

Chicago Trib today:

Since 2005, more than a thousand citizens have filed complaints about public officials in Illinois who refused requests for public records, most often by completely ignoring them.

A review of those complaints, along with dozens of interviews, reveals a culture of secrecy shrouding the machinery of your government. Public meetings are often theater, where votes are pro forma endorsements of decisions forged in e-mails and memos you will never be allowed to see.

Government records routinely turned over at the front counters in many other states are routinely denied here — the result of a notoriously weak open records law, an unsympathetic political culture and an attitude of disdain among many public servants who consider documents their own.

This is just about the best analysis of the problem I’ve seen, and anyone who can read it and still say, “Change the people, not the system” earns a dunce cap for depth of denial.
Continue reading Trib: “Your Government in Secret”