FOIA: Give it a chance!

It passed the House March 11 after a short debate, and as of this writing is before the Senate Assignments Committee. Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Westchester) is the chief sponsor, with Sen. David Koehler (D-Pekin) an alternate chief co-sponsor.

An assortment of unions and groups such as the Illinois Municipal League, which staged a hard but unsuccessful fight last year, has not given up. Now their effort is to take teeth out of the new law. They object to personnel file disclosures, even though the new law safeguards the privacy of public employees and even though the new FOIA has not been in effect long enough for any problems to be demonstrated.

In the past, the law was cited as a reason to withhold information valuable to the public – information that should and could be disclosed.

An example:

In 2009 the Illinois Supreme Court heard a case of a school district that attempted to withhold a superintendent’s employee contract from disclosure by simply placing it in the personnel file of the employee. Refusing to disclose the contract, the school district fought the disclosure to the Supreme Court. It ruled appropriately, holding that the employment contract should be disclosed.

Passage of HB5154 would again allow the personnel file to be wrongly used to hide clearly public information.

For more details, contact Susan S. Stevens, Chicago Headline Club FOI vice president,