Watchdogs explain why FOIAs are necessities
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests might seem like a way to waste taxpayer money through "fishing expeditions," until the public sees what gets caught in the net, the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW) said recently on their Illinois Leaks website.
The ECW shared some cases in which it said the simple FOIA request led to elected officials realizing that they were not following the law and were doing a disservice to the public good.
In one case, the ECW contacted the Coles County Board and identified a problem with missing agendas on its website. The board changed its procedures and now all agendas are posted in a timely manner, the group said.
In another instance, FOIA requests revealed that three Coles County Board special meetings were held without following required procedures, such as sending notices to other board members and publishing the meetings in the newspaper.
The ECW posted the board’s response on its website.
"The last three special meetings of the County Board held November 26, 2012, November 1, 2010 and November 27, 2006 were called by the Chairman," the posting reads. "After consulting with our current State’s Attorney, this was not the proper way to call a special meeting due to the fact that the Chairman was not elected by the voters of the County. Thanks for making the County Board aware of this situation to better run our government."
The ECW acknowledged that the results of FOIA requests can be mixed, with county boards and other officials being unaware of the specific statutes regarding meetings, special meetings, mandated Open Meetings Act (OMA) trainings and county procurement laws. It warns, though, that failure to follow the laws may result in contracts being nullified.