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Survey: Government Bodies Not Meeting FOIA Guidelines

File Photo (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images)

File Photo (Spencer Platt/ Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (WBBM) – Chicago-area reporters are not pleased with the way government is treating a new state law that’s supposed to make government more open to public scrutiny.

“We don’t see a grand conspiracy, but we do see that many (government) departments are lagging,” said Susan Stevens, president of the Chicago Headline Club, which commissioned the survey.

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Legislators, with input from the public and media groups, rewrote the Illinois Freedom of Information Act with great fanfare in 2009, with the corruption accusations against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich still fresh in their minds.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2010, requires a response to requests for government records within five days. But 72.5 percent of those responding to the survey said Cook County government failed to meet the deadline, 66.7 percent saw failure at the city level and 66.3 percent had complaints about compliance at the state level.

By contrast, the complaint rate was 51.6 percent at the federal level, although the federal Freedom of Information Act only requires government agencies to respond to records requests within 20 days.

“Problems still exist,” Stevens said, despite “hundreds” of informational meetings with public agencies, since the new law took effect, by the Illinois Attorney General’s public access counselor, who is empowered to enforce the law and can writing binding opinions requiring reluctant agencies to act.

Stevens and other open government advocates are writing Mayor Rahm Emanuel and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle asking for meetings in hopes of gaining wider compliance.

“We hope that with the changing of administrations both at Cook county and at the city of Chicago, that our survey will help the new people understand the problems,” she said.