Sunshine Week shines light on transparency

This is National Sunshine Week — and not because we have an extra hour of daylight following the start of daylight saving time Sunday.

Sunshine Week is an initiative launched by the American Society of News Editors in 2005 to promote conversation about the importance of open government and freedom of information. The date coincides with the March 16 birthday of James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” for his role in drafting and promoting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Freedom of the press is one of the freedoms protected in the First Amendment. Without access to information, however, news organizations can’t properly fulfill their responsibility to keep the public informed.

One of the key ways we gather information is by attending meetings of village and school boards, where elected officials make decisions about everything from how much to spend on street resurfacing to how many teachers to employ next year. The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires boards to conduct their meetings in public, with a handful of exceptions.

The District 86 Board recently was the subject of an Open Meetings Act complaint filed by Hinsdale resident Dale Kleber, who contended the board’s discussion of superintendent goals in closed session was a violation. The Illinois Attorney General agreed. As a result, the board rightly approved policy revisions, limiting closed session discussion to goals only as they are specifically related to the superintendent’s performance.

The board also announced last week that it was releasing video from a portion of that closed session meeting. Unfortunately that announcement was prefaced with comments about how the board was going “above and beyond” in releasing the video, as the AG’s ruling was nonbinding. That hardly follows the spirit of the Open Meeting Act — or Sunshine Week.

Another law promoting open governance is the Freedom of Information Act, which allows journalists and private citizens to file a request for public documents, which must then be provided if they do not fall under a handful of exceptions. One approach to FOIA requests is to provide only that information that is required by law to be released. Government bodies that are truly committed to transparency take the opposite approach by providing all the information they can, unless prohibited by law.

The internet certainly has increased access to information for everyone, and the village and the community’s two school districts all have sections on their websites where interested citizens can find a wealth of information. Here’s a summery of what is available on each site.

District 86

The FOIA portal on the district website at allows residents to submit FOIA requests and review a log of FOIA requests that have been filed and, in many cases, responsive documents. Several public documents are posted on the district’s website, including salary and compensation reports, annual budgets and collective bargaining agreements with teachers, support staff and service employees.

• District 181

The FOIA section on the district website at includes a guide to filing a FOIA request and a request form, along with a log of requests and responses dating back to July 1, 2014. Public documents posted on the website include contracts with teachers and support staff, budgets, annual comprehensive financial reports and salary and benefit reports.

• Village of Hinsdale

The village has a “Transparency” section on its website at that provides a FOIA request form. Public documents linked to the page include budgets, financial audits, property tax information and salary information for village staff.