It’s time to give recognition when recognition is due, and the residents of Naperville deserve a standing ovation from Naperville city officials, specifically with regard to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). As the name implies, this act allows citizens the opportunity to request information from the government, in this case locally, that is considered public information. It’s a simple process. The citizen fills out a form, sends it in, and the city provides the information to the citizen. Everybody’s happy.
The resident learns more about the workings of government, and the local government gets the satisfaction of providing information to its residents. Thomas Jefferson would be proud that democracy is working.
However most folks don’t really care what’s happening in local politics and local officials really enjoy this type of constituency. Deal-making in the inky shadows of Naperville’s city hall corridors is much easier with an uninformed citizenry.
For quite some time, Naperville city officials have been whining, ‘crying’, and complaining about citizens exercising their right to FOIA the city for info. Even Naperville city councilman Grant Wehrli wants to submit a FOIA to see which citizens have submitted FOIA requests, once he figures out how to submit a FOIA. Apparently city officials feel the city has been ‘over-FOIA-ed’ by its residents.
We contacted a number of cities in Illinois with comparable populations to Naperville (including Aurora, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford, and Springfield), and as few outside of Illinois including Dayton, Ohio, Hollywood, Florida, and Pasadena, California to see how many FOIA requests they processed from the beginning of 2013 thru the end of April. Other than Rockford, each city had the information readily available, and each city processed more FOIA requests than Naperville. So why is the city of Naperville complaining about FOIA-overload? If anything, it appears the city of Naperville needs more FOIAs submitted from citizens.
The city of Rockford, makes Naperville city staff look great in comparison. Naperville city staff had the information within minutes, while it took five phone calls to Rockford over a five day period, we were switched to two different departments and spoke with four different people. Finally, Kevon Hayes in IT seemed delighted to let me know that I needed to submit a FOIA to find out how many FOIA’s were processed. I wanted to ask him why I needed to submit a FOIA for such a simple request, but I had the feeling he was going to ask me to submit another FOIA to get that answer. Obviously, Rockford has their own bureaucratic problems. Sounds like a great opportunity for a Watchdog in Rockford.
Getting back to Naperville, it sounds like the city of Naperville’s problem is not that there are too many FOIA requests, but that there are too few. There is a remedy. I suggest the city of Naperville has a ‘Resident Appreciation Day’, similar to ‘Fan Appreciation Day’ at baseball games. Councilman Grant Wehrli can determine from his FOIA request, which citizens have submitted the most FOIA’s and then Mayor Pradel can proclaim a Fan Appreciation Day, and read the proclamation at the next City Council Meeting. The city could then hire a Public Relations company to determine the best way for residents to be educated on the process of submitting FOIA requests. There’s no reason why Naperville can’t surpass other Illinois cities in the number of FOIAs processed. Who knows, maybe we could even surpass Rockford, if only somebody in Rockford new how many FOIA’s they processed.