Familiarize yourself with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act)
Jan 03, 2018 10:19AM
Every level of government in
America is subject to a law passed in 1967 called the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA). Illinois has adopted its own FOIA in accordance with the Federal
law. Together, these laws provide the public the right to request access to
records held by local, state and federal government. The agencies and
departments of these governmental bodies are required to disclose information
requested under the FOIA unless the request fall under a number of areas of
exemption including those that protect personal privacy, national security and
law enforcement. Detailed information about the Illinois FOIA can be found on
the State’s Attorney General’s website at: http://foia.ilattorneygeneral.net/pdf/FAQ_FOIA_Public.pdf.At
the local level that includes the City of Batavia, frequently received requests
under the FOIA include communications by City staff and elected officials,
records related to purchasing or contracts, commercial activity, construction
or service records and police and fire information.
Who can make a FOIA request?
Generally any person may make a FOIA request.
City of Batavia FOIA Officers and Timelines
A select number of city employees is qualified to process FOIA requests. These are known as FOIA Officers. Each officer must complete an education program and pass a FOIA certification test administered at the state level.
The education and certification program provides FOIA officers instruction on how to handle and process FOIA requests. This includes determinations on what elements of a FOIA request qualify under the Act. The FOIA officer is then charged with gathering the requested information from city staff or elected officials. Typically this response must be completed within five business days.
There are exceptions in this timeline when a FOIA request is determined to be voluminous in nature. Some FOIA requests generate hundreds of documents that must be gathered into a single communication. The FOIA officer must determine if this level of request can be legitimately fulfilled within five business days. If the request generates large amounts of information that must be formatted for delivery, or the FOIA research associated with the request requires considerable staff time to complete, the FOIA officer may request an exemption to the five-day timeline in order to complete the project.
FOIA levels and fulfillment
The City of Batavia typically receives between 30-50 FOIA requests per month, totaling between 400 and 600 per year. While there is no “typical” FOIA request because all are in some ways unique, an average request requires an hour or two of staff time to gather the information and format it for return. This is often accomplished through email as a PDF document for easy viewing. Some FOIA requestors prefer paper documentation. If a file contains large amounts of data and is too large to deliver via traditional email, the City of Batavia makes provisions for digital downloads.
Some FOIA requests come from journalists seeking information for stories. The city is often contacted by legal representatives and business owners seeking records on properties with the City of Batavia. But the majority of FOIA requests come from residents seeking information on city activities as well as police or fire records.
How to file a FOIA request
The City has set up a webpage with information to assist you in filing a FOIA request. It can be found at http://cityofbatavia.net/151/Freedom-of-Information-Act-Request. FOIA requests can be filed through the City of Batavia Website, through the email links that are provided on this page, or through written documentation. No special form is required to make a request, but your request will be processed optimally if your request contains the following information:
· A detailed description of the information you are looking for
· Multiple forms of contact information (ie email, phone, address, fax)
· Your name and organization
One of the simplest methods is to fill out a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) form online. A link to this form can be found at the bottom of the FOIA request webpage.The City of Batavia is committed to the principles of open government and strives to provide information requested by the public in a timely manner. The City provides a large amount of frequently requested information on its website for ease of access to the public:
The City’s Agendas and Meetings webpage contains links to all available meeting minutes and agendas going back to January of 1995Agendas for upcoming meetings (including links to items for discussion) are linked to the city’s homepage. Each agenda in this section generally contains links with pdf copies of every piece of legislation under consideration and the staff memorandum describing that item. The city’s municipal code can be found online and is searchable by key word. Every effort is made to keep the online code up-to-date. But some very recently approved items may not yet be part of the document.
Police records are handled separately and directly by the Police Department FOIA Officers.
Accident Reports - If you are involved party in an accident report, you may come to the Police Department and purchase the accident report for $5.00 (cash or check). Accident reports can also be purchased at buycrash.com for an online fee.
General Police Reports - You may fill out a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request that specifies the information for which you are seeking. Freedom of Information provides the Police Department five business days for response. A copy of a photo ID is required when requesting Police Department reports for identification purposes.
PUBLIC INFORMATION ON FOIA REQUESTS
The City of Batavia has begun publishing a monthly record of all FOIA requests. These will include the date and subject of the request, when it was fulfilled and the name of the person, company or affiliation making the request. However, police FOIA requests will list only the case number.
If you are interested in making a FOIA request with the City of Batavia, but still have questions, contact the Communications Coordinator Christopher Cudworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, 630.454.2051