Act of requesting public information is public information
The Issue: The city of Carlinville receives many requests for information.
Our Issue: There are those who don’t realize any request for public information falls under FOIA and is, itself, public information.
CARLINVILLE (Aug. 31, 2017) – The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has gotten a lot of attention these days. While it is the absolute right of the people to know what their representatives are up to at all levels of government, there are times, it seems, when some members of the public try to manipulate FOIA to suit their agendas.
First off, public information is public information. Any person or group requesting public information is protected under FOIA, whether or not FOIA is mentioned in the request. While there are public offices that always want a written FOIA request, there are many where one need only walk in and ask.
In fact, there are many facilities where one can view the actual documents (rather than copies) on request. While it is up to the public entity at hand to determine its policy for handling requests for public information, there is no official way to request public information.
It’s also a fact that requests for public information are public information. While there are those who choose to hide behind the name of a group to avoid having their name become part of the public record, that is their choice, however sneaky or cowardly it may seem.
It is the law that anyone requesting any public information can and should get it in a timely way. The law does not provide for how the information is used once it is received. That mean’s it’s perfectly legal to make frequent requests for large amounts of information simply to see if the public body fulfilling the request can do so in the time (usually five days) required by statute.
FOIA was designed to be a tool useful in gathering information as part of a free and open government. There are times, however, when FOIA is used as a weapon to badger and overwhelm a public body’s FOIA officer in an effort to catch them in a violation — an effort similar to placing a slick substance on the approach to a stop sign, then ticketing a motorist for running the sign because they were unable to stop in time.
We support anyone who wants information from the city of Carlinville or any other government body. After all, one does not have to live in the area served by a governing body in order to request information from it. It is also the right of the public to question why a person or group from outside the area would make such requests for information.
The Macoupin County Enquirer-Democrat has begun publishing requests for information received by the city of Carlinville. The articles include no other information other than the exact request and who or what organization has made them. While there is some confusion as to what requests fall under FOIA, we hope to clear up the issue by reporting all requests for public information are covered by FOIA, whether the request directly cites the act or not. We will also say that all requests for public information are public information and can and will be published on these pages so members of the public — the people who live and work in Carlinville and the rest of Macoupin County — can draw their own conclusions.