July 23, 2014
Mary Frances O’Connor: (312) 821-9026
Robert Herguth: (312) 821-9030
CHICAGO—The Illinois High School Association once claimed in a court case it is a "local public entity" and "fits squarely within the definition of a local public entity."
The IHSA, whose governing board includes public school officials, also claimed it was "organized for the purpose of conducting public business."
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But when the Better Government Association tried to obtain documents from the IHSA earlier this year, looking for records relating to sponsorship deals, among other things, the IHSA refused to turn over anything, claiming it’s not a governmental body and therefore not subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
FOIA is the state law that says records from public bodies must be made available to the public, upon request. It’s a transparency statute crucial to ensuring open and honest government.
The BGA, a nonprofit that keeps watch over government in Illinois and promotes public access to public institutions, decided then to sue the IHSA on Wednesday to force the Bloomington-based agency to submit to FOIA and turn over records.
"IHSA has the audacity to claim it’s not subject to FOIA even though it previously tried to claim the benefit of governmental protections," said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. "They can’t have it both ways."
"IHSA is responsible for overseeing interscholastic high school competition – that’s about as governmental as it gets. And its top employees earn big salaries off the backs of public schools and public school students. We ought to be able to see if those salaries are deserved."
The IHSA, which regulates athletic competitions throughout the state, has faced scrutiny as of late from state legislators and the Chicago Sun-Times.
"When government contracts out governmental functions to purportedly private entities, FOIA still applies to those records," said Matt Topic, an attorney with Loevy & Loevy, who is representing the BGA. "The public has a right to see whether that function is being performed in the public interest."
For more on the BGA’s legal actions, please see:
The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the public to achieve authentic and responsible reform.