Illinois Public Radio reported a college professor who performed his own audit of how local governments in Illinois handle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests found the results were better than expected.
IPR said A. Jay Wagner, who is now with Marquette University, contacted agencies in 34 Illinois counties. He said 80% responded in the time allowed by law. But a few smaller counties had trouble responding in a timely fashion.
Shop Talk panelist Rich Egger is not surprised some smaller counties struggle. He said they might have few full-time employees and those people are often overworked and undertrained. However, he also pointed out FOIA laws exist for citizens – they’re not just for journalists – and local governments must be prepared to comply.
Panelist Will Buss said he knew a FOIA officer in a larger county who found it could be quite time consuming to respond to FOIA requests. While he sympathizes, Buss also said it’s essential that public information be made available to citizens in a democracy. Buss said he frequently filed FOIA requests when he was a full-time newspaper reporter.
Panelist Jasmine Crighton said her newscast students have in recent years filed a few FOIA requests with the McDonough County Health Department and found the agency generally responded pretty quickly. However, students started filing the FOIAs only after a department representative declined to give much information during an on-camera interview.
She also said that -- in general -- inmates and prisoners are among those who most frequently file FOIA requests.
Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.
Thanks to Illinois Public Radio’s Sean Crawford for his contributions to this week’s program.