Government transparency organization honors local watchdog group

By Gary Scott on July 31, 2015 at 12:34pm

Two individuals who have been part of a months-long effort to bring transparency to local government have been honored for their work.

Mike Woodyard, an organizer of the Morgan County Watchdogs group, and attorney Tyson Manker were presented the annual state “Courage Award” by the founder of the website last Thursday. Fifteen awards were handed out in total.

Morgan County Watchdogs has submitted dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests for documents from the Village of South Jacksonville in the aftermath of a springtime report aired on our radio station that focused on a 2014 Illinois State Police investigation into alleged wrongdoing by village officials.

Manker filed an ethics complaint on behalf of hundreds of people who signed petitions soon after the story broke calling for the resignation of the village mayor, treasurer and police chief. All three have since stepped down.

Manker and Woodyard appeared on this morning’s edition of WLDS’ tri-weekly program “What’s On Your Mind?” to talk about the honor.

“It’s certainly nice to receive some recognition, but if anything, we accept this honor on behalf of everyone who was involved. So, all we can do is thank everyone for their continued effort,” Manker says. “We encourage citizens not just in the village but in Jacksonville, surrounding communities, to understand that with a little knowledge and a little willpower of the law, you can really make a difference when you see something wrong, and we hope that people will get involved.”

“Kind of a culture sometimes in government. I don’t think people necessarily do things improperly on purpose, but it’s kind of a culture, and sometimes that permeates from the top, and after years, it’s just, ‘Well, this is just the way we do things,’” says Woodyard.

Manker says it’s his understanding that his ethics complaint is the first of its kind since the Illinois Public Officials and Ethics Act, passed in the early 2000s, was passed.

“I’m being told that it is now being used as a template for other individuals who have similar concerns in their municipalities,” he says.