FOIA gets political in a Chicago Suburb

It seems that FOIA is not just being used to thwart and disenfranchise the media and the average citizen anymore. An investigation conducted by the Illinois Daily Herald turned up some interesting FOIA practices within the suburb of Island Lake. In a stunning move that demonstrates the power of information, Island Lake trustees report that while opponents of the mayor are forced to file records requests and pay for documents required for the performance of their duties, the mayor’s allies did not face the same difficulties.

Village trustees from opposing parties have been forced to submit formal FOIA requests and pay for documents, including documents as crucial to their positions as budgets, bills, legal invoices and copies of building permits. At the same time, trustees who side with the mayor are not facing the same difficulties. “It’s a problem,” Island Lake Trustee Laurie Rabattini told the Herald, commenting on the $7.95 she had to pay for an official city budget obtained through a FOIA request. “There should be cooperation and a partnership, not an internal political roadblock.”

When the disenfranchised trustees proposed altering the cities FOIA policy to exempt trustees, they were voted down, 4-3 with the mayor casting the deciding vote. The majority (composed entirely of allies of the mayor who have not been subject to the FOIA rules), acting on the advice of legal counsel, determined that the trustees were already exempt. Interesting that the city hadn’t considered them exempt up to that point. Situations like this serve as the best reminder of how much power lies in the control of the free flow of information and how that power can be abused, even at the lowest level of government.

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