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July 8, 2014

Giving teeth to FOIA

Illinois' Freedom of Information Act operates on the honor system, but as East St. Louis resident Matt Hawkins can tell you, politicians don't always act honorably when it comes to the FOIA.

The courts may be about to give local leaders a nudge to get them to follow the law.

Hawkins filed a lawsuit stating, among other things, that East St. Louis failed to give him meeting minutes of its Tax Increment Finance Joint Review Board within the law's allowed time frame.

Some taxing districts regularly drag their feet on FOIA requests. They hope the person making the request will give up and go away. If he persists, the worst that generally happens is that the public body will be ordered to release the information. That can take months.

St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker ruled last week that East St. Louis may be penalized for allegedly not following the FOIA law. It's about time. Hawkins is correct that if the judge carries through and communities learn to follow the law, it will be a victory for residents of not just East St. Louis but all of St. Clair County and the 20th Judicial Circuit who value access to public information.

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