“Sunshine Week” came and went this year without any fanfare from the Illinois Attorney General’s office. Typically, that is when the Public Access Counselor (PAC) publishes its annual report on OMA and FOIA complaints and training sessions. Although I didn’t see any press about the release of the 2018 annual report, it was issued and you can find a copy of the report on the AG’s website here.
As we have in the past, we’ve highlighted some of the findings and summaries here in case you don’t want to read through 39 pages of the full report.
Complaints filed in 2018
- In 2018, the PAC received 3,748 “requests for review” of OMA and FOIA matters.
- 3,372 of these were related to FOIA
- 376 relating to the Open Meetings Act
Training sessions conducted in 2018
The PAC conducted 32 training sessions on OMA/FOIA
Binding opinions issued in 2018
The PAC issued 18 binding opinions in 2018. Regular readers know that we summarize the binding opinions on Municipal Minute. You can find summaries of the first 16 binding opinions issued in 2018 here and the last 2 binding opinions for 2018 here. They are also posted on the AG’s website here.
Non-binding opinions issued in 2018
Interestingly, this year’s annual report does not identity how many advisory opinions were issued in 2018. Given that there over 3700 complaints filed in 2018, and only 18 binding opinions issued in 2018, one can guess that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of advisory opinions issued – either that, or a significant number of these complaints remain unresolved.
So, where can one find all of these advisory opinions?
Well, as regular readers know, the PAC does not post the non-binding or advisory opinions on the AG’s website. The only way to get access to these opinions is to file a FOIA request with the PAC or AG. The problem, of course, is that there are just so many advisory opinions. How does a requester narrow the request sufficiently to avoid an “unduly burdensome” claim by the PAC, a task that can prove very difficult if a requester doesn’t have an idea of the topics addressed in these opinions since the PAC hasn’t posted an index of these opinions.
A handful of these advisory opinions are summarized in the annual report, so that is a helpful resource. But, I still remain hopeful that at the very least, the PAC will put together and post on its website an index of these advisory opinions to make it easier for the public and public bodies to request copies of opinions of interest. It would be a step in the right direction by the office tasked with ensuring government operates transparently. And, it would offer a lot in the way of helpful guidance to public bodies in ensuring compliance with FOIA and OMA, particularly because there are so very few binding opinions issued each year (only 3 so far in 2019).