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Public needs this information now
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 2/6/2009 12:03 AM | Updated: 2/11/2009 2:30 PM

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Today's topic might sound self-serving, and to a certain extent it is, but it's really all about providing you, the local voters, with what you need to know.

Here's the problem: Far too many of our municipalities, schools, libraries, parks, and fire and township boards are refusing to release blatantly public information about the people who are running to represent us.

We can't tell you about these candidates and you can't learn about them yourselves if none of us can find out who they are and how we might contact them. It's as simple as that. It's a basic part of a free, working democracy.

But it's not happening in far too many cases. The deadline to file to run for local office was Jan. 26, and still we are running into roadblocks.

Oakbrook Terrace and Naperville Township employees told us we'd have to go to the time and trouble to complete a Freedom of Information Act request to get anything from them beyond the candidates' names. Deer Park's appointed-not-elected clerk also is requiring that we write out and submit a formal FOIA request for addresses.

That's nothing more than a silly stall tactic. And while you might think it's no big thing to make the public file FOIAs, consider this: Once we submit one, the government receiving the request has seven working days to respond. On the seventh day, the government representative can (and government bureaucrats often do) tell the person requesting the information that it needs another seven days to "respond" to the request. After that couple of weeks, it could reject the request. Then the person seeking information would have to write an appeal of that decision. You see how this goes. It could nearly be April 7 and we'd all not know a thing about the people seeking to represent us.

These governments that are blocking our access to basic information, and every single other one of the hundreds around here is required by law to turn into the county clerk or election commission offices that administer the elections lists of candidates' names and addresses. That is all public information and we, and you, should get it immediately upon request once a candidate files for office.

We'd also suggest, in this day and age, that candidates be required to provide to the public a phone number and e-mail address.

After all, do we really want to elect those who seek to represent us if they are so secretive they're not willing to give voters any way to contact them? Sure, we understand local officials aren't paid much. They have families and private lives, but if they're going to run for public office, there should be a minimum expectation of interaction with the public.

It's common sense. We urge local officials to give us what we all need now so we can make informed choices on April 7.