The meetings of public bodies in Illinois must be open. As the eyes and ears for the citizens, it is key for you to know the laws designed to allow access to meetings, and see documents and information that are open to the public, from the simple to the complicated.
Remember many groups in Illinois including the Illinois Broadcasters Association and the Illinois News Broadcasters Association have legal counsel retained to assist with your initial open government questions and issues.
The Open Meetings Act (OMA) is a state law which requires public bodies to be open except in certain situations. OMA also requires advance notice of the time, location and subject matter of meetings of such bodies.
According to the Illinois Attorney General’s summary of the law The “public bodies” covered by OMA include all legislative, executive, administrative or advisory bodies of: the State, counties, townships, cities, villages, or incorporated towns, school districts, all municipal corporations. The Citizen Advocacy Center has prepared a good primer for journalists on open meetings.
“Public bodies” also includes all committees, subcommittees and subsidiary bodies of public bodies. Examples of “public bodies” include everything from park district boards to city councils to civic commissions. “Public bodies” includes, but is not limited to, any entity that is supported in whole or in part by tax revenue or which expends tax revenue.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the state law that sets out the rules for the acquisition of documents and records from of public bodies. The idea behind it is the public has a right to know what the government is going. In a summary of FOIA, the Attorney General’s office says “The law provides that a person can ask a public body for a copy of its records on a specific subject and the public body must provide those records, unless there is an exemption in the statute that protects those records from disclosure (for example: records containing information concerning trade secrets or personal privacy). “
FOIA covers public bodies, however the judiciary is exempt, although court records and proceedings are usually open to the public.
Within this section are more specifics and instructions to write an FOIA request.