If you’re looking for information about your local county government, Peoria County is a darn good place to live.
That’s one of the bright spots found after research conducted by a Bradley University professor and student who did a study of Freedom of Information Act responsiveness by county governments in Illinois.
A. Jay Wagner and senior Sophie Honeyman requested records from the county clerk, county sheriff and county health department in one-third of the state’s 102 counties, as well as checked to see if the county websites had certain mandated information about budgets, staffing and whom to contact with FOIA inquiries.
Most fared decently. Most appeared to be making a genuine effort. Few places were intentionally obstructionist.
“Almost 80 percent of the time, we got what we wanted,” Wagner said. In the case of the remaining 20 percent, in most cases it was benign neglect or a lack of awareness of the process that led to some stumbling and delay — and even there, he said, it was mostly a matter of talking officials through a process that wasn’t entirely familiar to them.
“Most of the time, they were extremely friendly, and they wanted to help,” Honeyman said.
But two places performed better than the rest: Jo Daviess County answered requests promptly and had nearly all the state-mandated information online. But Peoria County did the same and had all the data online.
In both governments, Wagner said, “there were clearly people who had said, ‘This is the law, we’re going to make sure we’re abiding by it.’
“Peoria was just, everything about it was just top-notch,” he added. “When you sent something to (their FOIA email), they sent something saying ‘We received it and we’ll get back to you.’ It was just by the book, and it was as well prepared and as well organized as anything we ran into in the study.”
Peoria was the only local county included in their inquiries, and their experience mirrors ours there — as well as with folks in Tazewell and Woodford who have been professional and cooperative even when they may not be wild about what we’re seeking.
Both researchers emphasized the value of counties continuing to digitize information and being accessible to requests.
Both were familiar with the FOIA process. Not every citizen is. As Wagner wonders, “If I wanted that information and I ran into a couple roadblocks, would I just walk away?”
Some people might, rather than pushing to find out what government is doing in their name — and with their money. (C.K.)
Too much technology
Last week in this space, we chronicled the possibility of the Peoria international airport losing its terminal radar approach facility. That center, which might be merged with one in St. Louis, handles air traffic that is transitioning between cruising altitude and arrival and departure.
It’s up to Congress to approve the Federal Aviation Administration proposal, so we asked our local representatives for their views.
A spokesman for Darin LaHood, whose 18th District includes part of the main runway at the airport, said the congressman was familiar with the issue. We also attempted to contact Cheri Bustos, whose 17th District includes the rest of the airport property. We never heard back from one of her spokesmen.
Now we know why, evidently.
An email issue was affecting the official account of said spokesman. Apparently his email reception was hit-and-miss.
When Bustos visited Peoria last week to announce her endorsement of J.B. Pritzker for governor in the 2018 election, a Journal Star reporter asked Bustos about the FAA proposal. She suggested she wasn’t aware of the details.
Bustos did say her staff was gathering more information about it. The following day, the reporter received an email from Bustos spokesman Brendan Welch.
“Congresswoman Bustos’ office has been in touch with the Peoria International Airport, the FAA and other stakeholders about this proposal,” Welch wrote. “In August, she submitted a public comment to the FAA opposing the plan and raising her concerns about moving this portion of air traffic control from Peoria’s 182nd Airlift Wing.”
The Peoria airport also plays host to a unit of the Illinois Air National Guard.
“(Bustos’) office will continue to monitor the situation as the FAA considers the public comments that came into their docket and look for opportunities to strengthen Peoria International Airport,” Welch wrote.
We’ll note the apparent inconsistency of Bustos’ statement in Peoria and Welch’s statement that his boss made her opposition known to the FAA two months ago. But Bustos might have been caught off guard by the question. She, LaHood and their peers have a lot on their minds, we imagine.
We’ll also note our dereliction of duty in not telephoning Bustos’ office following the lack of an email repsonse. Sometimes modern technology isn’t all that and a bag of chips, even though we’ve all become so reliant on it. Perhaps too reliant.
Regardless, we hope the air-traffic-control matter is settled in Peoria’s favor.
The airport appears to be entering a new era of vitality, with increases in destinations, passengers and improvement projects. Having it become a control-tower backwater, in job appeal as well as in practice, runs contrary to all that. (N.V.)
Gov. Bruce Rauner has drawn the ire of social conservatives since his decision last month to sign House Bill 40, a measure that guarantees abortion rights in Illinois even if Roe v. Wade is overturned at the national level, and expands state-funded access to the procedure for low-income women.
It’s led some Republican lawmakers to label themselves free agents, and to suggest Rauner was, at best, fibbing when he pledged a veto of the bill earlier in the year.
Rauner has made much ado about living in Springfield as governor — even with the Executive Mansion under repair — and has made a point to routinely appear in all sorts of downstate communities, large and small.
But in the two and a half weeks since signing HB 40, he has not held a single public event outside the Chicago area. He’s held 10 events in Chicago and seven in the suburbs.
We asked the governor’s staff if there’s a connection — downstate, of course, is much more culturally conservative, and potentially more likely to offer an unfriendly reception — and we were told there’s “nothing to read into.”
Still, the guv’s probably going to get some questions on this issue — and some citizen reaction — the next time he ventures west of Elgin or south of Oak Lawn. (C.K.)
Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) writes “Nick in the Morning.” He can be reached at email@example.com or 686-3285. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.