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Daily Herald- Guest View, Comptroller Topinka Misunderstands Illinois Freedom of Information (FOIA) Law

by Adam Andrzejewski
CEO, nonprofit For The Good of Illinois
January 9, 2013

Read original editorial here:  http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20130114/discuss/701149971/

Illinois Comptroller Topinka is responsible for paying the state’s bills. She is also the only public official in Illinois to reject our Freedom of Information Act request for the line-by-line state checkbook information showing these transactions. That’s why we filed a lawsuit.

In her 2012 denial of our request, she argued that producing such data over a three day period was an “undue burden.” In her response to our suit, she says the data is on her website. First, both statements can’t be true, and second, it doesn’t matter.

The Comptroller’s office claims that the information we requested is on her website, yet we have information from other sources indicating that there is data missing. More important, what is or isn’t on the Comptroller’s website has no bearing on her duty to comply with a valid Freedom of Information Act request. Frankly, every citizen in Illinois deserves access to raw government data to analyze and present in the format they choose.

To allow government officials to decide the extent, presentation, and format of public data is to allow the fox to guard the henhouse – particularly in Illinois. You can hide a lot of wrongdoing in aggregating a line item.

Other agencies have complied with our requests, indicating that producing this data not difficult. The City of Chicago sent us ten years of their checkbook producing nearly seven million lines of individual transactions. This included purchase order numbers, fund accounts, department codes, check numbers, vendor names, dates, and the amount of the check. Illinois universities complied as well.

We were forced to file this suit because the Comptroller didn’t follow, and the Attorney General didn’t enforce, a straight-forward law. The people have a right to see this data. It’s that simple.

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2 Responses to "Daily Herald- Guest View, Comptroller Topinka Misunderstands Illinois Freedom of Information (FOIA) Law"

  1. Comment by Norine Ehrler on January 12, 2013 at 3:55 pm said:

    Yes It is time the State of ILLinois show its books to the public. Things are out of control. What are all these people hiding?

  2. Comment by Tracy on March 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm said:

    I have been trying to get FOIA requests filled for a small village in Illinois called The Village of Cleveland. I got involved a few years ago when I heard things that didn’t sound right. When I first started FOIA requesting information they provided some information…not all that was asked for. When I started discovering things and asking for receipts/invoices…to go along with the checks written from the checkbook register I was given….those are the items I never could get. In 2010, I just so happen to receive an email from a Board member of the Village where the Clerk sent an email to the Mayor, the Treasurer, and a couple of Board members that had email addresses stating he was resigning from FOIA Officer due to not being able to get access to the books from the Treasurer. The Treasurer then fired back with a “smart” reply which enraged the Clerk. The clerk then shot an email back asking the Treasurer if he still had money “hidden” in a drawer of which he had been told it was illegal to do. The Clerk reasoned the “hidden” money in the drawer away with there was $10-12 in the drawer for “pop” but I don’t buy it. Why would $10-12 for pop money have the question asked if the Treasurer still had money hidden in the drawer of which he was told was illegal to do. NOT BUYING IT! Now when you FOIA request anything…you can’t get ANY information. The Illinois Attorney General’s office only sends out their “protocol” response and FOIA requests still go unfulfilled. I believe there are 30-34 pending FOIA responses being waited on from the Attorney General’s Office for this small village.

    When I was receiving documentation from FOIA requests I noticed (1)the balances weren’t matching from month to month on the Treasurer’s report, The Auditors report even stated that, (2) checks were being written to individuals(some on the Board, the Mayor, etc) for things other than meetings and their pay. When asked for receipts/invoices…NOTHING!

    The Board can’t get access to the books nor can they get anything put on the agenda that needs to be taken care of. They try to post agenda at the Village Hall but the Clerk shoots off nasty emails and tells them they can’t do that. ONLY THE MAYOR can create the agenda.

    So with all of that….where does one go from here for something like that. They’ve tried to hire a lawyer but they don’t want anything to do with it….they have taken items to the States Attorney….he doesn’t want anything to do with it.