Evanston City Clerk Rodney Greene says state lawmakers "created this monster” when they reformed the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Greene says the revisions, designed to make it easier for citizens to request information from local governments and to require quicker responses to those requests, have created a lot of new work for him and his deputy, Elaine Autwell.
But data Evanston Now received in response to a freedom of information request shows that the number of requests to the city in the first five months since the new law went into effect in January has increased only eight percent from the same period last year — from 165 to 179 requests.
"The paperwork is getting out of hand," Greene says, and the state isn’t providing any funds to cover the extra work.
With the new law people "can ask for anything," Greene says. "Before, we could be a little selective."
But the request logs show that the number of requests denied has increased since the new law went into effect — from 38 during the first five months of last year to 45 during the same period this year.
The new law cuts from seven to five business days the time the city has to respond to a request for information and provides that the city must give the first 50 pages of copies of records for free and limits charges beyond that to 15 cents per page.
Greene says he needs extra help to deal with the demands of the new law. "The paperwork is getting out of hand. If I could get one more person, it would release a great deal of stress," he said.
But given the city’s budget crunch, it seems unlikely the City Council will provide additional staff.
"It’s way outside of the financial means of the city to add another staff person," said Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward.
"Pointing the finger" at the state for failing to provide funds for added staffing to cope with the new law isn’t the solution, she added. "All government agencies are under financial restraints. We still need to figure out better processes for this."