Forcing public servants to serve the public

The Madison County Record Feb. 18, 2012, 6:45am

The homepage of the Village of Caseyville's official website has a link to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). That might lead you to conclude that the village's mayor, trustees, and various commission and board members believe in transparency and respect the right of citizens to know what public servants are doing with our tax dollars.

But the commissars in Caseyville seem to think that they need only comply with FOIA requests when it happens to be for information they don't mind sharing.

Such an attitude runs counter to the letter and spirit of the law. The whole idea behind the FOIA is to ensure public access to information our "leaders" might prefer to keep confidential.

Nobody invokes the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of a resolution honoring mothers on Mother's Day. We use it to find out how much money public employees are paid and how much work they do for it, what criteria they use to award public contracts, and if friends and family members are benefiting from influence-peddling.

To anyone offended by our lack of trust, we say, Nuts! If all public officials could be trusted at all times, there would be no need for a Freedom of Information Act.

The assumption behind the FOIA is that public officials are not angels, but mere mortals like the rest of us, subject to temptations.

Last year, Bradley VanHoose of Belleville filed an FOIA request with the Village of Caseyville, seeking information relating to proposals for the construction of public fishing docks.

"The village is in financial straits," VanHoose explains. "They spend money on things they don't have money for."

Caseyville declined his request, but VanHoose appealed to State Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who this month ordered the village to turn over the requested documents.

It shouldn't be so hard to get public servants to serve the public.

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