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Remember this, Mr. Pritzker: We’re your boss, and public records belong to us

Chicago Sun Times

Wednesday, December 5, 2018  |  Article  |  Phil Kadner

Governor (44)

Once he takes office, J.B. Pritzker will decide he is the government, if Mike Madigan says it is OK.

 

That’s the way it is. Presidents, governors, mayors, school board members decide you, the people, are not entitled to poke around in “their business.” It’s annoying when peasants question the ruling class.

 

In Illinois, this power grab has happened time and again, in Springfield and Chicago.

 

That’s why now is the time to make Pritzker, our next governor, commit to making his government open to the public. That means he has to send a clear signal that before any state agency refuses to release public documents, it has to clear that denial with the governor’s office.

 

That would send a clear signal to the bureaucrats Pritzker appoints that in his view, unless there is a really good reason, all public documents belong to the public.

 

In fact, the Illinois Freedom of Information Act clearly states, “It is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government.”

 

Of course, those are just words on paper. In fact, the people we elect to run our government in Illinois do their best to avoid telling you how they spend your money, make decisions and award contracts.

 

The only reason there is a need for laws like the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act is that leaders don’t believe you have a right to know how they conduct your business.

 

And it is really your business.

 

You pay their salaries. You pay for the people who do their dirty work. You pay the money that ends up in the pockets of private contractors, consultants and relatives who get jobs on the government payroll. You pay for the lawsuits people have to file to get the documents they are entitled to under the law.

 

All of that information rightfully belongs to you.

But people like Gov. Bruce Rauner don’t like it when news organizations or private citizens start asking for correspondence and phone records that may have influenced appointments to key government committees and commissions.

 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel became testy when the public started asking about videotapes from the scene of a police shooting.

 

We’re not talking about national security here.

 

The focus of this column is on the governments of our state — the Illinois Legislature, the governor’s office and all of those agencies that have a direct impact on our lives.

 

We don’t trust those people. Doesn’t matter if they are Democrats or Republicans. We suspect they are corrupt. Heck, we have sent a lot of those people to prison.

 

The same is true in almost every city, village, and school district in this state.

 

Illegal meetings are common.

 

Public officials take bribes.

 

They spend our tax money as if it belonged to them.

 

Several years ago, this state created the office of public access counselor in the Illinois Attorney General’s office to help citizens get access to the records and meetings they are entitled to under the law. But that office has been buried in paperwork because our government bodies routinely refuse to provide those documents. That’s a deliberate scheme to thwart the intent of the law. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

 

Long ago, I suggested criminal penalties and stiff personal fines for any public official who willfully and knowingly violated the intent of freedom of information or open meetings acts. I was told the state Legislature would never approve such a law because their friends are the people who run those government bodies. And they don’t want to see their friends go to prison.

 

Make Pritzker commit to running an open government before he is sworn into office. Once he’s in the seat of power, he’s not going to want the riffraff poking around in “his” business.