Village Clerk's Office is the right place for FOIAs

Opinion: Columns

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By Simone Boutet

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During the 2009 retirement party for Village Clerk Sandra Sokol, the standing-room-only crowd was asked to raise their hands if Sandra had ever helped them. Every hand in the room went up — a room so packed that the fire department almost shut it down.

Village Clerk Vicki Scaman is cut from the same cloth. She is dedicated to providing you, the citizen, with the customer service you're entitled to. An important part of this service is to ensure that citizens get the information they request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Village Clerk's Office is the right place for this critical function. There is no reason to change that and good reasons not to.

Currently, the Village Attorney's Office is under the supervision of the village manager, rather than the village board. This means the Village Attorney's Office is not accountable to the elected officials who are in turn accountable to you the citizens.

Last year, in the context of the Madison Street Road Diet, staff denied an individual's request to obtain traffic count data on Madison Street. The Village Attorney's Office then fought that denial all the way to the Illinois Attorney General's Office. The Attorney General's Office issued a binding legal opinion declaring that the village's refusal violated the Freedom of Information Act. The attorney general then ordered staff to provide this raw data to the requestor. None of this happened by board direction or even the knowledge that it had occurred.

According to Pro Publica, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) annually receives some 30,000 requests from citizens to intervene when they cannot get the information they request from their government. Out of all those requests, the PAC singles out about 20 such cases to issue legally binding opinions declaring a violation of the act. We were one of those violators singled out by PAC.

Last week at the SUA candidate forum, 11 out of 11 candidates running for village trustee stated that FOIA compliance belongs in the Village Clerk's Office. Why? Because the public demands it.

As a progressive community, we are engaged and politically active. Getting access to information on the affairs of government is the lifeblood of an informed citizenry. This imperative is not served by giving the henhouse keys to the foxes who have resisted your rights. As an elected official, the clerk's first loyalty is to the people who elected her. We need Vicki Scaman to remain the FOIA officer, not employees whose loyalty is to the unelected staff who control their jobs. 

Simone Boutet is an Oak Park village trustee.

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Gregg Kuenster from River Forest Trustee Candidate  

Posted: January 18th, 2019 11:18 AM

Transparent Government is an oxymoron. Thank you Simone Boutet for such a fine fine statement of facts. Verifiable facts are the life blood of democracy. This article is so precious. Corruption breeds on a sniping and a lack of facts. So many of the things we as a society say we care about are false. We ignore the facts to push our REAL agenda. More for my ego. More fore my kind. More for the latest cause du jour. More to make me feel validated/ in control.

Joshua Klayman from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2019 9:21 AM

For another excellent analysis of this ill-advised move on the part of Village Government, see Doris Davenport's public comment at the Jan. 14 Village Board meeting; equal parts cogent and impassioned. It's on the Village video of the meeting, at time-mark 45:18. Find it via the Village website or directly at

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