PEORIA -- Earlier this year, Illinois lawmakers reformed the
Freedom of Information Act, which is a powerful tool for the
public to use to obtain information.
Now they should look at the Illinois Open Meetings Act.
It has a serious flaw.
Here's what happened recently to a Peoria group, Peoria
Families Against Toxic Waste, according to group activist
In April, the group learned that a 'special waste' shipment
to the Peoria City/County Landfill had toxic PCB's, revealed
from testing samples of the waste. The landfill committee's
engineering consultant said the shipment should not be
placed in the municipal landfill. PCBs are considered
hazardous waste, which is banned from the landfill at
But someone, apparently the contractor Waste Management,
who makes money off the shipment, asked for more tests.
So they were done.
And at the May meeting, without any information in the
material given to landfill committee members, and without
an agenda item calling attention to it, the consultant said
new testing showed the shipment was OK, and the
committee voted to accept it.
They did allow a Families group member observing the
meeting to speak against it, but approved it anyway.
The Families group appealed the lack of notice to the Illinois
Attorney General's office, following the process spelled out
in the Open Meetings Act.
But that office responded by finding that a generic listing
on the agenda was sufficient notice to the public. That's
despite the law calling for agenda items to inform the
public in advance about what will be voted on.
Often other governmental bodies use generic terms but
supply specific information to board members and the
public, so both know in advance what will be voted on.
The Attorney General's office also said the Families group
has no way to appeal its ruling, except to go to court.
But there's a catch. The group had only 60 days to do
that and the clock had been ticking.
By the time the AG office issued its ruling, which cannot
be appealed, the 60 day time limit had expired.
Who knew? Not the Families group. The Act is not clear.
"We did not know that by using the AG appeal process
we were also deciding we could not appeal an adverse
decision to the courts," Harant said.
"We did not know that the 60 day time period was not
stayed by our using the recommended AG access counselor
process. We also did not know that we would have to go
to court to get any kind of appeal," she said.
This is a serious flaw in the legislation. The 60 day time
limit should begin after the AG office issues its ruling,
so that the ruling can be appealed if necessary.
Meanwhile let's hope the PCBs, if any eventually are placed
in the landfill, won't get into the ground water beneath
the municipal landfill.
And thanks to the Families group for being a watchdog
on this committee. The City/County Landfill Committee
enjoys funding from the landfill proceeds, a serious conflict
-- Elaine Hopkins