By Kayleigh Rahn
Watchdogs or bullies? Fact checkers or nitpickers? Opinions or news?
Maybe all the above or none at all, though John Kraft of Paris, Ill., isn’t particularly interested in titles. He’s simply on the hunt for those he believes are taking advantage of their public roles.
The Edgar County Watchdogs is an alternate online media outlet that publishes documents released via Freedom of Information Act requests and footage taken during public meetings and offers their opinions on what has taken place.
Kraft and his partner Kirk Allen have published these stories as the watchdogs since 2011, and it’s been a full-time gig since 2015. Just last week, Kraft says, the team filed FOIA requests in various communities from Naperville to Jasper County and on average issues about a dozen requests per week.
Though not attorneys themselves, the group references court opinion, especially opinions handed down by the Attorney General to share their beliefs on local government action.
“It’s a lot of reading,” Kraft said of the group’s research. “Different types of court rulings that may set precedence, double checking with the Attorney General’s office who may have issued an opinion over the decades. We come across things we didn’t know with reading the case precedent or court cases.”
In a sense, the group has become an expert in the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.
“Over the hours, weeks, months, and years we have spent researching Open Meeting Act, Freedom of Information Act, townships, school districts, park districts, and the like we now know exactly where to look and what material to reference to find the answer,” he said. “We try to avoid websites that put their own spin on things. We want to make sure we are taking the facts and not someone’s opinion. We want the information straight from the source. We learned a whole lot in the first few years of doing this.”
As their name suggests, the group started its work in its home of Edgar County and has expanded as their experience with FOIA requests has grown.
The full story can be found in the Wednesday, Feb. 7 edition of The Tuscola Journal.