Who knew the Illinois Freedom of Information Act would be so unwieldy?
A strenghtened law, enacted in 2010, set up a system in the Attorney General’s office to resolve disputes when a public body denies a request for information. It seems like a wonderful recourse for the public. And it would be if the system weren’t so hopelessly bogged down.
The office has more than 2,800 appeals awaiting a decision; nearly 1,200 of them have been pending for more than two years.
The volume of appeals is truly overwhelming. You’d think with time and as public officials got to understand the law, the number would have gone down. Instead, it has increased from a monthly average of 285 in 2013 to 349 a month this year.
Still, leaving appeals in limbo for months and years just isn’t acceptable. Access delayed is access denied.
Instead of hiring more lawyers to handle appeals, Attorney General Lisa Madigan needs to find more efficient and effective ways to process them. After five years of reviewing cases, the office should have a clear grasp of the legitimate exceptions to the FOIA. That knowledge should be used to decide appeals in a timely manner, always with the goal of releasing as much requested information as possible.