Press Release
For Immediate Release
March 16, 2007
 
Contact: Robyn Ziegler
312-814-3118
877-844-5461 (TTY)
rziegler@atg.state.il.us
 

MADIGAN RELEASES 2nd ANNUAL OPEN GOVERNMENT STATISTICS AS PART OF SUNSHINE WEEK

Members of the Public Seeking Access to Government
Information Continue to Lead Requests for Assistance

Chicago –Attorney General Lisa Madigan today released the second annual report on the work of the Illinois Public Access Counselor.  According to the statistics in the report, in its second year since the creation of the Public Access Counselor, ordinary members of the public continue to lead the pack of those asking for assistance in accessing public documents. 

In 2006, Madigan’s office received 988 requests from members of the public, government bodies and the media concerning the Illinois Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  More than 80 percent of the 988 matters brought to the Public Access Counselor in 2006 came from members of the public.

“Open and honest government is the cornerstone of American democracy, and it can only be achieved through the free exchange of information between the government and its citizens,” Madigan said. “The statistics from our Public Access Counselor’s second year of work demonstrate that members of the public throughout Illinois are actively interested in being involved in the work of their government.  And they confirm the importance of our efforts to provide help to the public through the Public Access Counselor.  We are delighted to see so many people knocking on our door, seeking clarification on freedom of information and open government issues.”

Madigan added, “When I established the Public Access Counselor, many people thought the media would be our most frequent requestor.  While I am pleased that we are able to serve as a resource for members of the media and government officials, it is very satisfying to see that Illinoisans know they can come to us for assistance in seeking access.” 

Madigan released her office’s statistics during the second annual National Sunshine Week, which runs this year from March 11-17.

In December 2004, Madigan created the Public Access and Opinions Division in her office and appointed Terry Mutchler to serve as the state’s first Public Access Counselor.  
In May 2006, as part of an expansion of this division, Scott B. Sievers, an attorney with experience litigating cases under FOIA and OMA, joined the office as an Assistant Public Access Counselor. 

The Public Access Counselor’s role is to ensure that public bodies understand the requirements of the Sunshine laws and conduct their business openly and that the public has access to governmental information to which they are entitled.  Through the Public Access Counselor, Madigan’s office serves as a valuable resource for government officials, members of the public, and the media when questions or disputes arise.

Madigan said that in 2006, the most common FOIA issue raised with the Public Access Counselor concerned the fees charged by government agencies in response to requests for public documents.  When documents are requested, FOIA permits a public body to charge “the actual cost of reproduction.” The law does not permit public bodies to charge to the cost of searching for and reviewing the requested documents.

The most common OMA issue raised with the Public Access Counselor involved questions as to when the law allows public bodies to go into closed session.

Along with responding to nearly 1000 FOIA and OMA requests, Madigan’s office works to enhance understanding and compliance with the sunshine laws by conducting training sessions across the state for the public, government officials and members of the media.  The training sessions provide participants with a practical understanding of OMA and FOIA, information concerning what government officials must do to comply with the Acts, and details on how the public can use these Acts to participate in open government.
Madigan’s office also provides in-depth guides to OMA and FOIA. Those guides can be accessed online at:
www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/openmeet.pdf and www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/FOIA_guide.pdf.

Public Access Counselor Terry Mutchler can be reached by phone at 217-558-0486, or by writing her at the Attorney General’s Springfield office at 500 S. Second Street, Springfield, IL 62705.  She also can be reached by fax at 217-785-2551.

The 2006 Public Access Counselor Annual Report is available online at
www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/Public_Access_Counselor_Annual_Report.pdf.
 

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