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March 14, 2022


Public Access Bureau Handled Over 3,000 New Matters, Doubled Training Participants

Chicago  —  In recognition of Sunshine Week, Attorney General Kwame Raoul released the Public Access Counselor Annual Report with details of a sampling of over 3,000 new matters received in 2021. The Public Access Counselor (PAC) works to increase transparency in Illinois government by resolving disputes regarding public bodies’ compliance with the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA). The 2021 report also describes how the PAC was able to more than double the number of individuals who participated in trainings related to Illinois’ transparency laws.

Since the PAC’s creation under state law in 2010, members of the public and the media have submitted 49,199 matters to the PAC for review, and approximately 95% of those matters have been closed. Last year, the PAC received 3,051 formal requests for assistance pursuant to FOIA and OMA – an average of nearly 254 new matters per month. Additionally, in response to the pandemic, the PAC’s transition to virtual trainings allowed the bureau to more than double the number of people who received FOIA and OMA training.

“Although we highlight government transparency during Sunshine Week, the Public Access Counselor, or PAC, in the Attorney General’s office works throughout the year to ensure that government agencies are accessible to the people they serve,” Raoul said. “The Public Access Bureau’s trainings are critical in helping public bodies understand and meet their obligations under transparency laws. During 2021, the bureau’s continuation of virtual trainings more than doubled the number of training participants, and I look forward to building on that success.”

The Public Access Counselor’s determinations have created new and important legal guidance in Illinois to enforce the disclosure of records and foster increased transparency in government. They have successfully clarified the law, especially on issues that have not been addressed by courts.

In addition to analyzing and resolving disputes through binding and non-binding opinions, the PAC conducts trainings that inform government officials about their duties under FOIA and OMA, and fields thousands of phone calls on its hotline (1-877-299-FOIA) to help public bodies, the public, and the media understand the open records and open meetings laws. Because mitigations put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 remained in place for much of 2021, the Public Access Bureau continued to conduct online trainings. The bureau increased participation in virtual training seminars by hosting 16 remote sessions attended by more than 1,700 individuals – more than twice the number of participants in 2020.

In 2021, the PAC issued 12 binding opinions, decisions that are enforceable in court and create legal guidance concerning Illinois’ government transparency laws. Among the notable matters that resulted in binding opinions last year were the following:

  • No. 21-001, issued Jan. 26, 2021: The Chicago Police Department denied as unduly burdensome a reporter’s request seeking any subpoenas and search warrants from federal law enforcement or regulatory agencies. When the reporter contacted the department to discuss narrowing the request to manageable proportions, the department did not engage in an appropriate good-faith dialogue. FOIA requires a public body that considers a request to be unduly burdensome to offer to talk to the requester about narrowing the scope of the request. Because the department failed to do so, the PAC determined it had improperly denied the request. The PAC also concluded the department did not demonstrate that the request for subpoenas posed an undue burden, nor did it prove that any grand jury subpoenas it received were specifically prohibited from disclosure.
  • No. 21-011, issued Dec. 14, 2021: A member of the public alleged that the Jersey Community Unit School District No. 100 Board of Education violated OMA in connection with its Sept. 16, 2021 remote meeting by livestreaming the meeting and not allowing the public to attend in person. The PAC considered whether there was a disaster proclamation in effect at the time of the meeting, whether the board president determined that in-person attendance was not practical or prudent due to the pandemic, and whether the board properly livestreamed the meeting so that all discussion and roll call votes were clearly audible. The PAC determined that, because the board met those requirements, it held a proper remote meeting.

The PAC also helps resolve transparency issues between government bodies and members of the public through the use of non-binding determinations and informal negotiations. Here are some examples of such resolutions:

  • 2021 PAC 66538, 66539, 66541: A reporter submitted a request for review contesting the city of Joliet Police Department’s denial of several FOIA requests for various police records concerning the department’s response to an officer-involved shooting. The department initially denied one request and indicated any records responsive to the other FOIA requests were in the possession of the Will Grundy Major Crimes Task Force, an entity that the police department stated was investigating the incident. After the PAC asked the department to explain its denial, the department acknowledged the denial was in error and provided the records, with some redactions.
  • 2021 PAC 66631: A member of the public submitted a request for review contesting the Housing Authority of McDonough County’s denial of a FOIA request as unduly burdensome. Upon reviewing the file, the PAC noted that the housing authority’s response was sent after the statutory deadline by which a public body may deny a request as unduly burdensome. The PAC negotiated with the housing authority to arrange a rolling production schedule for the requested records, and as a result, the housing authority provided copies of records every week for several months until it had fully complied with the request.

More information about Illinois’ sunshine laws, as well as a copy of the report that includes frequently asked questions can be found on Raoul’s website. For assistance from the Public Access Bureau, contact the hotline at 1-877-299-FOIA (3642), or send an email to

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