Editorial: FO-Why

The use of FOI shouldn’t be abused to settle a grudge or inflict punishment upon anyone.

The Freedom of Information Act is one that should be supported by every private and public citizen — and one that is revered and and respected by journalists.
The act ensures that anyone, without having to justify or explain oneself, is entitled to know what their public servants are doing.
Recently this act has become a topic of discussion in Darien. Town officials and school administration are contemplating a public log of those filing FOI requests and what they are requesting.
Those on the filing and receiving end of these FOI requests should embrace this public log for the purposes of keeping the public informed.
Not only will it show the type of requests and how frequently these requests are being made, the topics might also alert those not in the know of important topics in town.
This week, the Board of Education noted that one individual’s FOI requests had cost the district almost $100,000 in processing fees.
On the surface level, no number of FOI requests or cost of those requests should be deemed “too much” to respond to. That isn’t at the heart of the Freedom of Information Act. The public log of FOI is a useful tool for residents and public officials.
However, the concern arises when it becomes a tool for bullying those who file what some perceive as an excessive number of FOI requests.
This year it is one individual. Next year, it could be The Darien Times, or someone else.
People should not be intimidated by the crowd or being outnumbered by having an unpopular opinion. FOI requests can be cumbersome and expensive, but they are part of the job of doing the public’s business.
But the reverse point also holds true.
The use of FOI shouldn’t be abused to settle a grudge or inflict punishment upon anyone. There are processes in place to handle misdeeds, errors and mistakes committed by our public servants and public officials. FOI shouldn’t be a resort when those processes don’t go the way we want them to.
It insults the integrity of the Freedom of Information Act to repeatedly cast a wide net of repeated requests to grease the squeaky wheel.
The act is a critical and important tool — now more than ever.
Don’t demean it by using it for bullying one another.
The word freedom is in it for a reason.
Let the sun shine in.