MADIGAN RELEASES THIRD ANNUAL OPEN GOVERNMENT REPORT
Springfield - Requests to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office for assistance with the state’s sunshine laws increased by 38 percent in 2007, indicating a growing awareness by the public and government officials that the Attorney General’s office works to help ensure compliance with and an understanding of both the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) in Illinois.
The statistics, released today as part of Madigan’s third Public Access Counselor Annual Report, show that in 2007, the Attorney General’s office received 1,366 requests from the public, government officials and members of the media for assistance in matters dealing with the Illinois FOIA and OMA. In 2006, the office received 988 requests.
Members of the public seeking access to government information continue to lead requests for assistance. Of the total number of written and telephone requests relating to the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act, 939, or nearly 69 percent came from members of the public. Madigan said her Public Access team received requests for assistance from every corner of the state.
Madigan’s Public Access team saw a large increase in the number of requests for FOIA and OMA assistance from government officials. In 2007, the Public Access Counselor received 111 requests for FOIA assistance from government officials, up 178 percent from the 40 requests from government officials in 2006. Additionally, in 2007, the Public Access Counselor received 174 requests from government officials for assistance in addressing Open Meetings Act questions, up 262 percent from the 48 requests received in the previous year.
“I created the position of Public Access Counselor in 2004 in an effort to make the state’s sunshine laws more effective by offering help to members of the public seeking access to their government and by working with government officials to help them better understand and implement these important laws,” Madigan said.
“The statistics from our Public Access Counselor’s third year clearly show that members of the public are actively seeking out information on the workings of government and that government officials are very interested in gaining a better understanding of these laws.”
“By working so closely with the public, government officials and members of the media, we are developing a detailed record of how the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act are working,” Madigan added. “As we move forward, this record will help us in our effort to bring legislators, open government advocates and local elected officials together to draft much needed changes to these laws.”
The report also shows a big jump in the number of OMA questions that Madigan’s office fielded. In 2007, the Public Access Counselor received 556 requests for assistance in addressing Open Meetings Act issues, an increase of 169 percent over the 207 OMA requests in 2006.
Along with responding to 1,366 requests relating to FOIA and OMA, the Attorney General’s office conducted 51 trainings throughout the state last year to provide a more detailed understanding of the state’s sunshine laws. Each training features an overview of the laws, what a government official must do to be in compliance with the laws and how people can use the laws to better participate in open and honest government. Over the past three years, the Attorney General’s office has held more than 180 training sessions throughout Illinois.
In 2007, the office held seminars for such diverse governmental bodies as local library systems, community college boards, employees of state’s attorney’s offices, local school boards and soil and water conservation districts. In addition, Madigan’s office has made available in-depth guides to the Illinois OMA and FOIA. Interested parties can access the guides online at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/openmeet.pdf and www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/FOIA_guide.pdf.
In addition to responding to an increasing number of requests for assistance, especially relating to the Open Meetings Act, Madigan’s office also received a higher number of FOIA requests for documents from the Office of the Attorney General. In an effort to better respond to these requests, Madigan directed the Public Access Counselor to conduct an internal review of how the Attorney General’s office responds to FOIA requests.
“As part of our overall commitment to improving access to government, we have undertaken internal staff training to improve how quickly we respond to FOIA requests, and we are constantly working to streamline and improve our procedures,” Madigan said. “Throughout 2008, we will continue to search for ways to enhance our process of responding to FOIA requests.”
In addition to the statistics related to 2007 FOIA and OMA activities of the office, other features in the Public Access Counselor Annual Report include detailed instructions on how to file a FOIA request, responses to frequently asked FOIA and OMA questions, and details on how to obtain assistance with concerns about the Open Meetings Act.
Those interested in contacting Public Access Counselor Terry Mutchler can do so 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 or by fax at 217-785-2551.
The 2007 Public Access Counselor Annual Report is available online at www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/government/Public_Access_Counselor_Annual_Report.pdf.