Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rahm on FOIA: Don't ask 'cause I won't tell

Posted By on 05.08.12 at 09:30 AM

BGA policy and government affairs coordinator Emily Miller
  • BGA policy and government affairs coordinator Emily Miller
Finally got around to talking to Emily Miller the other day.

She's the lawyer for the Better Government Association who valiantly fought to make sure that Mayor Emanuel had to publicize the internal documents of his Infrastructure Trust.

She lost that fight, but give her credit for trying. It’s good to know there’re still a few Chicagoans who don’t just roll over at the mayor’s command.

A few reminders to those who have already forgotten . . .

The Infrastructure Trust's the mayoral appointed body that has the authority to make billions of dollars' worth of public works deals.

The City Council—speaking of Chicagoans who always roll over—approved the Trust on April 24 by a vote of 41 to 7.

Another day of infamy in the kleptocracy known as Chicago.

"I wanted the council to add a sentence to the ordinance that said all documents owned by the Trust are owned by the city," says Miller.

Meaning?

"If every document owned by the Trust was owned by the city of Chicago then every document produced by the Trust would be subject to FOIA because every document owned by the city is subject to FOIA."

Further meaning?

"That they officially would be public documents and the Trust would have to turn them over to you if you filed a Freedom of Information Act request."

In other words—if the Trust's spending public money, it should have to play by the rules governing public bodies?

"Exactly."

But?

"The mayor kept that sentence out.”

So?

"We've lost the ability to request information about what's going on inside the Trust."

Which means?

“We're fucked!”

Miller did not say that! Oh, my God—she's much too polite and refined to resort to such vulgarities.

But it pretty much sums things up.

And why should you—the happy sheep of Chicago—worry your little brains about complicated things like FOIA laws?

Well, if our all-powerful mayors know they’ll have to reveal the secrets to their backroom deals maybe they’ll be a little more hesitant to make them.

Or maybe the backroom deals they make won't be so overwhelmingly bad for ordinary taxpayers.

Like the parking meter deal in which Mayor Daley—backed by the City Council—traded an asset worth untold billions for about $1 billion.

Though now that I think about it, I'm starting to wonder if anything will ever stop our all-powerful mayors from making bad backroom deals.

Certainly, the council won't.

The joke of it all is that Mayor Emanuel’s administration—like Mayor Daley’s—can be notoriously passive-aggressive about complying with existing FOIA laws.

They're slow to get back to your requests. Or they send stuff you didn't ask for. Or they send nothing at all, on the grounds that you didn't correctly word your request. Or they tell you that what you asked for doesn't exist, even though it does. Or they say FOIA law doesn’t apply to them—a favorite trick of the Charter Schools.

So I guess Mayor Emanuel was doing us all a favor by stifling Miller's efforts—saving everyone the time and trouble of asking for information he wasn't going to provide in the first place.

Thanks for trying anyway, Emily!

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