Using the Illinois Freedom of
Information Act as a Tool for Knowledge
By: David T. Meek
Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") is an under-utilized tool
that can enable property owners, developers, builders and investors to
easily gather useful information from the vast array of records kept by
municipalities and other governmental bodies. Local
governments collect and generate current and historical records about
specific properties, including properties for sale and for lease, as
well as competitors' properties and government-owned
FOIA request can be a powerful device for obtaining a broad variety of
pertinent records, including:
- Building code citations and health and safety inspection
- Letters and emails sent by objectors in a zoning case.
- City council and plan commission minutes concerning a
- Staff reports on pending development projects.
- Applicant submittals for current projects, as well as
- TIF expenditures and impact fees payments.
- Environmental conditions on the property and neighboring properties.
- 5 and 10 year capital plans for county and township highway
Information gleaned from public
records could be useful in:
- Assessing the condition of a property prior to bid or
during contract due diligence.
- Researching a prospective tenant's record at another
- Implementing a comprehensive defense strategy in a
contested zoning case.
- Evaluating the issues that were factors in the grant (or
denial) of zoning relief.
- Tracking the evolution of a successful (or defeated)
- Following the progress of a proposal
to designate a TIF or change the boundaries of a zoning district.
- Monitoring the progress of proposed
amendments to local regulations and ordinances.
can be made to any public body, including state, county and municipal
governments and their commissions and ad hoc committees, as well as to
government agencies such as IDOT and the Environmental Protection
in the possession of a public body are required to be made available,
even if the FOIA request has a commercial purpose, unless the document
falls within a specific exception that protects certain types of
confidential information. For example, FOIA does not allow
the release of (1) architectural and engineering plans for private
projects, (2) proprietary or confidential information where disclosure
may cause competitive harm, (3) bid submissions for public projects
prior to award of the contract, and (4) records pertaining to the
governmental body's real estate purchase negotiations until closing or
termination of the deal.
some types of records are protected from disclosure, there are numerous
useful records that a well-crafted FOIA request can unearth. We
can guide you in your pursuit of pertinent information contained in the
many documents that are submitted to, and created by, governmental
If you want
to learn more, please email us or give us a call.