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Local News

BGA Report: City of Joliet, Sheriff's Office unlawfully exempt public records

A sign welcomes travels to Joliet on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, along Interstate 80 in Joliet, Ill.
A sign welcomes travels to Joliet on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, along Interstate 80 in Joliet, Ill.

An analysis by the Better Government Association, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Illinois, found that the city of Joliet and the Will County Sheriff’s Office were among the worst offenders when it comes to improperly exempting public records requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The BGA found that the city of Joliet was third worst of the public bodies in Illinois that it reviewed for wrongly exempting and denying public documents requested. It found that among the denied FOIA requests which were sent to the Public Access Counselor for review, the city improperly applied exemption rules 58 percent of the time.

Joliet ranked behind only the University of Illinois, which improperly applied the law 63 percent of the time, and the city of East St. Louis, which had violations 100 percent of the time, according to the report.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office was seventh, improperly applying the law 39 percent of the time, the report revealed.

The BGA examined the frequency with which public bodies claimed a FOIA exemption that was found to be improper from April 6, 2010, to March 15, 2018.

The Freedom of Information Act gives the public the right to request records from public agencies. State government agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the Illinois FOIA unless it falls under one of a number of exemptions for confidential or sensitive records.

If a government agency in Illinois denies a request for a record, the requester can ask the Public Access Counselor in the Office of the Attorney General to review the request and denial.

The PAC, which has a staff of 13 full-time lawyers, three supervisors and four support staff, according to the BGA report, then receives, investigates and rules on records disputes. Newly inducted Attorney General Kwame Raoul said on the campaign trail that enhancing the PAC and getting through the backlog of review requests was a priority for him in running for that office.

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk referred questions to interim City Manager Marty Shanahan and interim City Attorney Chris Regis, who failed to respond to requests for comment.

The Will County Sheriff’s Office also failed to respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

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