Civic News & Info
Bringing Families of Fallen Servicemembers Together PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Spc. Dorian Daily, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment   
Friday, 11 November 2011 14:37

BELLEVILLE, IL (11/08/2011)(readMedia)-- Losing a family member can be difficult, especially when that loved one made the ultimate sacrifice while serving his or her country. However, those who grieve do not have to take the journey alone.

The Illinois Connections for Families of the Fallen (ICFF) held a conference "Connections in Southern Illinois: Bringing Families of the Fallen Together" on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College Nov. 5. ICFF is a coalition of more than 25 organizations, including the Army Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) program.

"ICFF ensures families are connected to resources, connected to their local community, and connected to peer support," said Bob Gillmore, the support coordinator of Army Survivor Outreach Services and native of Petersburg.

The event was open to the families of fallen servicemembers. Participants were asked to bring a personal token of remembrance to use as a symbol of strength.

The event was comprised of three tracks: groups/workshops, resources, and creative arts.

In the groups/workshops track, participants discussed how they coped with the loss of their servicemember. Everybody described their grieving process differently.

"We found that we were so busy, we really didn't have time to grieve," said Sheila Tracy of Palestine, who attended on behalf of her son, Pfc. Jacob Tracy.

In the resources track, participants learned how to improve advocacy skills, develop peer networks in their home area, reach financial goals, and change or restart their careers.

The creative arts tracks helped participants reveal a creative side some may have thought they never had.

"Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses a creative process and art materials to help people express themselves," said art therapist Leslee Goldman of Evanston. "When it comes to mourning a loved one, it becomes another language of expression for those who cannot find the words to say. The grieving process can be long and challenging and not everyone is comfortable with just talking."

Children also attended the event and participated in activities with their family. The activities were designed to help families share positive memories of their loved one.

"My dad was a really nice person who wanted to make his family happy and laugh," said a young Belleville participant describing his father, who served in the Marine Corps and Air Force. "He is irreplaceable."

Another young participant, Jayse Weikert of Jacksonville, described his father, Illinois National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Weikert in only one word: "Awesome!!!"

Participants also had the opportunity to contribute to The Memorial Mosaic Wall, which was created by using tile pieces. Everyone contributed one piece to create an entire picture. It will travel throughout Illinois to enable others to contribute to this ever evolving piece.

The purpose of the SOS program is to provide long-term support to families of the fallen. This is done by facilitating support groups, providing life skills education, and connecting Survivors with counseling resources. SOS also works closely with benefits coordinators, casualty assistance officers, and others to ensure survivors receive the necessary services.

 
Davenport Parks and Recreation Earns National NRPA Accreditation PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Ron Summers   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 13:32
Davenport. Iowa, November 4, 2011 – The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) announced today that Davenport Parks and Recreation became one of only 104 park and recreation agencies accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA). This distinguished accomplishment was announced during the NRPA 2011 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

National accreditation through CAPRA is an extensive multi-year process, which includes the completion of an application and detailed self-assessment report, a site visit by a committee of experienced park and recreation professionals, and a final assessment completed by the agency and the Commission. Accreditation requires agencies to respond to 144 standards representing elements of effective and efficient park and recreation operations. To become accredited, agencies must fully meet 36 standards deemed fundamental to a quality agency and at least 92 of the remaining standards.

CAPRA accreditation is the only national accreditation for park and recreation agencies, and is a measure of an agency’s overall quality of operation, management and service to the community. Accreditation is valid for a period of five years, renewed thereon for 5 years terms.

The Commission is comprised of representatives from NRPA, the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials, the International City/County Management Association, the American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation, the Armed Forces Recreation Society and the Council of State Executive Directors.

“I’m proud of the hard work and dedication from the department staff to achieve this recognition,” said Seve Ghose, Director of Parks and Recreation. “The City can also be proud knowing that their Parks and Recreation department has been recognized for excellence in service and operations.” “By successfully completing the CAPRA accreditation process, these agencies have proven their ability to provide the highest level services and programs. NRPA truly commends our 2011 accredited agencies for their overall excellence in serving their communities and contributing to the health and vitality of America” said Barbara Tulipane, CEO of NRPA.

Parks and Recreation joins Davenport Police, Fire and Public Works in achieving national accreditation status. With formal presentation to Parks and Recreation of accreditation status, Davenport is now the first city in the United States to achieve national CALEA, CFAI, APWA and CAPRA accreditation status, while operating libraries accredited at the state level.

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Governor Quinn Announces Major Expansion of Illinois' Open Data Initiative PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Andrew Mason   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 13:23

Addition of Federal Datasets Pushes Total Sets Available on Data.Illinois.gov to Nearly 5,000

CHICAGO – November 4, 2011. Governor Pat Quinn today announced a major expansion of the information available on Illinois’ open data portal, Data.Illinois.gov. The state recently received approval from the federal government to provide more than 4,700 additional datasets containing Illinois-related information collected by a number of federal agencies. This brings total datasets available through Data.Illinois.gov to nearly 5,000. Illinois’ open data portal is an initiative of Governor Quinn’s Illinois Innovation Council.

“Giving people greater access to the information government collects can improve the lives of all Illinois residents,” Governor Quinn said. “Today’s announcement gives our innovators and entrepreneurs even more information and tools to promote innovation throughout Illinois.”

Data.Illinois.gov empowers the public to access and employ information collected and maintained by the government. It contains a user-friendly interface that describes what data is available, how it can be accessed, and different tools for making use of it. The site is maintained by the state of Illinois and encourages public participation in government by empowering Illinois’ innovators to use government data in new and creative ways.

New datasets available on Data.Illinois.gov include the results of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which tabulates incomes, home values and average commuting times. Other datasets include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s state-by-state toxic release inventory and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the Midwest economy.

The new data supplements information already posted by the Illinois Departments of Transportation, Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Revenue, Human Services, Veterans Affairs, Public Health, Central Management Services and Employment Security, as well as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. The site will continue to grow as more data from more agencies are added, with the goal of making as much data as possible available.

The Illinois Innovation Council was created by Governor Quinn in February to promote economic development through innovation and the engagement of citizens, developers, academia and industry. For more information on the council, please visit www.illinoisinnovation.com.

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Grassley Concerned about Local Ordinances Undermining Federal Immigration Laws PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 09:10

WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley is leading an effort to make sure the Obama administration is not turning a blind eye to local governments that resist in cooperating with federal immigration authorities and blatantly ignore the immigration status of individuals with whom they come into contact.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Grassley, along with Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, wrote that they were specifically concerned about the department’s handling of Cook County, Ill.  The senators wrote that in a meeting with Gary Mead, the Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Senate Judiciary Committee minority staff were told that Cook County presents a major problem for immigration enforcement efforts.  In fact, Mr. Mead said that Cook County is the most egregious example of sanctuary city policies and that this situation presents ‘an accident waiting to happen.’”

“The Secretary needs to step up and take control of this situation before Cook County’s ordinance is copied by other local governments,” Grassley said.  “These anti-enforcement policies are allowing criminals to walk free and putting the safety of the public at risk.”

In addition, recent press reports indicate that much to the chagrin of local Border Patrol agents, the U.S. Border Patrol ended transportation checks on random busses, trains and airports.  According to agents, the searches were an effective tool for deterring illegal immigration.

“This all adds up to an administration that has little concern with the rule of law.  Sanctuary cities undermine the ability of law enforcement personnel to enforce the laws on the books, and until the administration shows a desire to put an end to the practice, local governments will continue to thumb their nose at law enforcement,” Grassley said.

Here is a copy of the text of the letter.  A signed version of the letter can be found here.

 

November 2, 2011

 

 

The Honorable Janet Napolitano

Secretary

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

 

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

 

We write to express serious concerns about the Administration’s lack of attention to local law enforcement jurisdictions that enact policies that undermine federal immigration law.  Specifically, we are very concerned with policies enacted by Cook County, Illinois, and how your department is responding to them.

 

At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on October 19, you were asked if you had communicated with Cook County officials about a recently passed ordinance that prohibits federal government officials from having access to undocumented persons detained by the county.  This ordinance aims to free suspected undocumented individuals jailed by the county on misdemeanor cases, in spite of requests from federal law enforcement to hold them for possible deportation.  During the hearing, you indicated that you had not participated in any discussions with Cook County.  You also indicated you had not had any discussions with the Justice Department about how they will handle local jurisdictions, such as Cook County, that harbor undocumented individuals.

 

When briefed by Gary Mead, Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Senate Judiciary Committee minority staff were told that Cook County presents a major problem for immigration enforcement efforts.  In fact, Mr. Mead said that Cook County is the most egregious example of sanctuary city policies and that this situation presents “an accident waiting to happen.”  Mr. Mead also reported that the Department is relying on the ICE District Director to resolve the situation, although ICE Assistant Secretary Morton has taken some direct steps to address the matter.

 

We would like to know what specific steps have been and will be taken by your Department to compel Cook County to reverse its policy of ignoring immigration detainers.  In addition, we would request an overview of meetings held between federal officials and Cook County, including any emails or other documentation that exist, to understand how the federal government has been or is attempting to rectify the situation.

 

More importantly, we urge you, as Secretary, to take a direct role in this matter.  Cook County’s ordinance is a serious threat to the public’s safety that requires your immediate and personal attention.  This is too important of an issue to go unresolved, and as a matter of national security, we urge you to take control of the situation so that detainers are not ignored and undocumented individuals are properly detained and put in deportation proceedings.

 

Finally, we encourage you and your colleagues in the Administration to seriously consider taking action against local or state jurisdictions that enact policies that purposely undermine the law or encourage their officers not to cooperate with the federal government when it comes to immigration enforcement.  Given the current fiscal crisis facing the federal government, serious consideration should be given to withholding federal grant dollars to local or state jurisdictions that fail to cooperate with the federal government on immigration enforcement.  The Administration has a responsibility to ensure that the homeland is protected, and it must not turn a blind eye to such entities that proactively defy the immigration laws we have on the books.

 

Thank you and we look forward to your timely response.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Chuck Grassley

John Cornyn

Tom Coburn

Jeff Sessions

 
Grassley Questions Justice Department’s Proposed FOIA Regulations PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Civic News & Info
Written by Sen Chuck Grassley   
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 10:23

Open government advocates say “lying” diminishes integrity of federal government

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley is pressing the Department of Justice to explain its proposal to make false statements to Americans submitting Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests if the documents are deemed by the agency as inappropriate to release.

The Justice Department is considering changing existing FOIA regulations to allow agencies responding to a FOIA request to state that no records exist, even if the records do, in fact, exist, whenever they determine that the requested documents they possess fit within a certain exclusion of the law.

“It’s hard to believe that the Justice Department thinks it’s appropriate to make false statements to the American people to avoid releasing sensitive documents.  How about being truthful and simply saying that if the documents exist they would be sensitive and couldn’t be provided?  This administration is creating more distrust of the federal government, which is already at a low point,” Grassley said.  “It’s long past time for the ‘most transparent administration’ to start acting like it instead of just talking about it.”

Grassley wrote in his letter to the Attorney General, “The new proposed regulation stands in stark contrast to both the President’s and your prior statements about FOIA, transparency, and open government.  In fact, this policy directly contradicts your many statements, to me and other members of the Judiciary Committee, as part of your nomination hearing, that you support transparency of the Executive Branch.”

Grassley has championed the public’s right to know by strengthening and reforming sunshine laws, including oversight and enforcement of the FOIA, and measures to protect watchdogs and whistleblowers.

Here is a copy of the text of Grassley’s letter.  A signed copy of the letter can be found by clicking here.

 

October 28, 2011

Via Electronic Transmission

 

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Attorney General

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I write you today regarding the Department of Justice’s proposal to amend the Freedom of Information Act Regulations.[1] Under the proposal, a new section 16.6(f)(2) would change existing FOIA regulations to allow agencies responding to a FOIA request to state that no records exist whenever they determine that the requested documents they possess fit within the exclusions under 5 U.S.C. § 552(c).

Institutional FOIA requesters with varying perspectives have expressed their opposition to section 16.6(f)(2).  In sum, they oppose it because it is contrary to FOIA’s purpose of ensuring government accountability by providing for public access to information and records.  Requesters argue that section 16.6(f)(2) will interfere with the judicial review that guarantees that agencies are correctly interpreting and applying exemptions under FOIA.  They further maintain that the provision will severely damage government integrity by allowing a law intended to facilitate access to information to be distorted to allow law enforcement agencies to “lie” to our citizens.  In the opinion of requesters, section 16.6(f)(2) is not needed because answers to FOIA requests for documents that fall within § 552(c) exclusions can easily be framed in a manner that is truthful, while still not acknowledging whether any such documents exist.

Under normal circumstances, few requesters would litigate a denial where the FOIA request was denied on the basis that no records exist, because in that situation there should not be anything for a court to order the government to produce.  However, requesters contend that the enactment of section 16.6(f)(2) could very likely result in an increase in FOIA litigation because as soon as requesters understand that a DOJ “no records” response does not necessarily mean that there are no records, they will be forced to sue to discover whether there are any records or whether the response was made under section 16.6(f)(2).

On his first full day in office, President Obama declared openness and transparency to be touchstones of his administration, and ordered agencies to make it easier for the public to get information about the government.  Specifically, he issued two memoranda written in grand language and purportedly designed to usher in a “new era of open government.”[2] The President’s memorandum on FOIA called on all government agencies to adopt a “presumption of disclosure” when administering the law.  He directed agencies to be more proactive in their disclosure and to act cooperatively with the public.  To further his goals, the President directed the Attorney General to issue new FOIA guidelines for agency heads.

Pursuant to the President’s instructions, you issued FOIA guidelines in a memorandum dated March 19, 2009.[3] Your memorandum rescinded former Attorney General Ashcroft’s 2001 pledge to defend agency FOIA withholdings unless they lacked a sound legal basis.  Instead, you stated that the DOJ would now defend withholdings only if the law prohibited release of the information or if the release would result in foreseeable harm to a government interest protected by one of the exemptions in FOIA.  Your memorandum used the same grand language as the President’s memoranda.  In relevant part, it reads:

As President Obama instructed in his January 21 FOIA Memorandum, `The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.’  This presumption has two important implications.

First, an agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally.  I strongly encourage agencies to make discretionary disclosures of information.  An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption.

Second, … [a]gencies should always be mindful that the FOIA requires them to take reasonable steps to segregate and release nonexempt information….

At the same time, the disclosure obligation under the FOIA is not absolute.  The Act provides exemptions to protect, for example, national security, personal privacy, privileged records, and law enforcement interests.  But as the President stated in his memorandum, `The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.’…

... Open government requires not just a presumption of disclosure but also an effective system for responding to FOIA requests.  Each agency must be fully accountable for its administration of the FOIA.

I would like to emphasize that responsibility for effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us—it is not merely a task assigned to an agency's FOIA staff.  We all must do our part to ensure open government.

Proposed section 16.6(f)(2) stands in stark contrast to both the President’s and your prior statements about FOIA, transparency, and open government.  In fact, this policy directly contradicts your many statements, to me and other members of the Judiciary Committee, as part of your nomination hearing, that you support transparency of the Executive Branch.  Further, this proposal is alarming given my questions to you at the April 14, 2010 oversight hearing about the significant increase in the use of FOIA exemptions by federal agencies between FY2008 and FY2009.  Although you responded that the significant increase in the use of exemptions was “troubling,” your later written response indicated that the “increases demonstrate greater transparency.”

I am concerned about your decision to propose section 16.6(f)(2) and share many of the concerns expressed by institutional FOIA requesters.  Accordingly, please respond to the following requests for information:

  • Has the DOJ instructed, or otherwise approved, an agency providing a knowingly false statement about the existence of documents in responding to a FOIA request or to a FOIA requester?  If so, how often has this been done?  Describe the circumstances surrounding each use of a knowingly false statement DOJ has approved as an appropriate response to a FOIA request.
  • Identify the authority by which the DOJ can adopt proposed section 16.6(f)(2), in light of (a) the case law applying FOIA and (b) the legislative history behind FOIA, both as originally enacted and as subsequently amended.
  • Is the DOJ currently using the procedure set forth in proposed section 16.6(f)(2)?  If so, identify how long it has been used and the authority by which the DOJ is able to utilize the procedure absent a new regulation or statute.
  • Given the many existing specific FOIA exemptions, such as the national security exemption in (b)(1) and the law enforcement exemption in (b)(7), along with the longstanding use of the “Glomar response,” to protect national security and ongoing investigations, why does the DOJ maintain proposed section 16.6(f)(2) is needed?
  • Did the DOJ consider less expansive options for reforming FOIA, such as merely codifying the “Glomar response” in regulations?
  • What additional, less expansive alternatives were considered?  For example, did the DOJ consider a more limited “national security only” option for cases with national security concerns instead of across the board recommendations for agencies to lie to FOIA requesters when a request includes something as innocuous as the existence of a privileged interagency memorandum?  If so, provide a list of all other less expansive options considered.
  • What is your response to the concern expressed by institutional requesters that section 16.6(f)(2) is contrary to FOIA’s purpose of ensuring government accountability by providing for public access to information and records?
  • What is your response to the concern expressed by institutional requesters that section 16.6(f)(2) will interfere with the judicial review that guarantees that agencies are correctly interpreting and applying exemptions under FOIA?
  • What is your response to the concern expressed by institutional requesters that section 16.6(f)(2) will severely damage government integrity by allowing a law intended to facilitate access to information to be distorted to allow law enforcement agencies to “lie” to our citizens?
  • What is your response to the argument by institutional requesters that section 16.6(f)(2) is not needed because answers to FOIA requests for documents that fall within § 552(c) exclusions can easily be framed in a manner that is truthful, while still not acknowledging whether any such documents exist?
  • What is your response to the argument by institutional requesters that the enactment of section 16.6(f)(2) could result in an increase in FOIA litigation because as soon as requesters understand that a DOJ “no records” response does not necessarily mean that there are no records, they will be forced to sue to discover whether there are any records or whether the response was made under section 16.6(f)(2)?
  • One set of comments[4] to section 16.6(f)(2) suggests that when DOJ “determines that a requester is trying to obtain information excluded from FOIA under [5 U.S.C.] section 552(c), the agency should simply respond that `we interpret all or part of your request as a request for records which, if they exist, would not be subject to the disclosure requirements of FOIA pursuant to section 552(c), and we therefore will not process that portion of your request.’”  What is your response to this suggestion?
  • Do you agree that proposed section 16.6(f)(2) is inconsistent with the statements in the President’s January 21, 2009 memorandum on FOIA?  If you disagree, explain how you are able to reconcile the two.
  • Do you agree that proposed section 16.6(f)(2) is inconsistent with the statements in your March 21, 2009 memorandum on FOIA?  If you disagree, explain how you are able to reconcile the two.
  • Does the DOJ intend to submit section 16.6(f)(2) to Congress and to proceed with its implementation?

These are basic questions, most of which should have been answered before you decided to seek comments on proposed section 16.6(f)(2).  Therefore, I ask that you respond in writing no later than November 7, 2011.

Finally, if you intend to proceed with section 16.6(f)(2) as currently drafted, I ask you to confirm this intention in writing when you submit the new regulation to Congress.  Based on the information that I have at this time, I will take all necessary action, including introducing legislation, to block section 16.6(f)(2) from ever taking effect.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Grassley

Ranking Member

CC: Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

 
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