Edgar watchdogs offer primer for first-time information seekers
Wannabe government watchdogs have been offered a helping hand getting started from the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW), which recently posted a guide for requesting Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) information.
The guide, written by Lisa Thomas and posted on the ECW's Illinois Leaks website, suggests that FOIA requesters begin with meeting minutes and agendas, board member packets and bank, credit card and purchasing card statements.
Thomas notes that most government entities post their minutes and agendas online but suggests it is a good way to practice submitting requests and gauge the response of local government officials, who must still direct requesters to their websites within the allotted time. Once requesters have the agendas and minutes in hand, they should review them for any discrepancies, as all actions taken at meetings must appear on the relevant agendas, Thomas wrote.
Board member packets consist of all the information board members receive prior to undertaking votes and are a good way to measure how informed the members' decisions are. Community members can also request the communication sent from public bodies to their board members for greater context.
Thomas recommends that community members preface their requests with the word "complete" to ensure that they receive all supplementary documentation, like copies of checks and deposits and details on purchases. These more-detailed records allow for better analysis and a greater chance to catch any irregularities, she wrote.
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Edgar County, IL, United States