After veterans’ home cover-up, is Rauner the state’s most secretive schmuck? | Bleader

Friday, April 6, 2018

After veterans’ home cover-up, is Rauner the state’s most secretive schmuck?

Posted By on 04.06.18 at 06:20 PM

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click to enlarge MAX HERMAN/CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
  • Max Herman/Chicago Sun-Times

In the heated race to see who can be the state's most secretive schmuck, Governor Rauner made moves last week to challenge his old pal Mayor Rahm.

In response to journalists who sought records via a FOIA request, Rauner released 450 heavily redacted pages of e-mails regarding the Legionnaire’s disease that killed 13 residents of a state-run veterans' home in downstate Quincy.

I realize this is a contest many of you didn't know existed, as maybe I'm the only one keeping track.

So let me get right down to business with an explanation.

FOIA is the acronym for a state law that supposedly obligates public figures—even mighty ones, like Rauner and Rahm—to release public documents.

It stands for Freedom of Information Act, though I'm starting to suspect the first two letters may stand for "fuck off."

I’ve come to this conclusion after years of studying the legalistic dodges employed by Rahm and Rauner to keep you from seeing the most basic public information.

Those dodges include claiming that you're asking for too much information, or that it will take too long to gather the information you've asked for, or making you wait weeks only to turn over a blank piece of paper.

That’s what some of Rahm's flunkies at the Chicago Public Schools did a few years back when Joanna Brown, a Logan Square activist, asked for public documents about a school closing.

Slick move, Mr. Mayor—that’s why you’re the reigning king of FOIA schmucks. Though, as we can see, Rauner is gaining fast.

Anyway, back to our explanation.

Outraged over Rauner's snail-like response to the deaths at the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy, some state legislators filed an FOIA request with the governor’s office seeking to determine what he knew and when he knew it about the outbreak of Legionnaire's disease there.

Or more to the point—why was Rauner so slow to do anything about it? Other than, you know, the obvious answer—he apparently doesn’t give a damn about people who live in state-run veteran homes.

A couple of intrepid WBEZ reporters—Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold—got ahold of nearly 450 pages of e-mails and patiently pored over them before concluding that "government lawyers [had] blacked out portions of more than half the documents recently turned over to a legislative panel investigating the state’s inability to contain the waterborne illness.”

So it looked as though we'd never know what was blacked out. Except . . .

Turns out WBEZ had previously obtained some of the same e-mails from the health department in Adams County, where the Quincy home is located.

Thus, McKinney and Arnold were able to compare the unredacted e-mails from Adams County with the governor’s redacted ones to determine what Rauner’s crew had blacked out in at least some of the e-mails.

Oh, they're a crafty bunch, those reporters at WBEZ.

And what did they find? In short: nothing of significance to warrant the redactions.

We still don't know what was blacked out in the dozens of e-mails for which WBEZ has no comparisons. Keep digging, McKinney!

I’m not surprised that Rauner was so contemptuously unresponsive to the legislators’ FOIA request.

In 2015, he responded to a FOIA request for copies of his daily schedule from my old Reader colleague Mick Dumke by releasing the schedule with the names of most of the people he met with blacked out.

So Mick and I knew Rauner kept a schedule. We just didn’t know the names of the people who were on it.
When we asked for an explanation, Rauner’s spokesman said state law allows governments to withhold documents protected by attorney-client privilege.

I’m telling you—they just make this stuff up as they go along.

There are several conclusions to reach from the WBEZ exposé into Rauner’s latest FOIA scandal.

One, it’s sort of reassuring to know Rauner’s as devious with lawmakers as he is with Reader and other reporters. At least he's not playing favorites. 

Two, the high-paid lawyers in Rauner’s FOIA office must not have a lot to do if they can spend their days blacking out meaningless sentences in 450 pages of e-mails.

And, three, as schmucky as this is—and it's really, really schmucky—the governor's redactions are not quite as bad as when Rahm’s flunkies sent Joanna Brown that blank piece of paper.

Sorry, Bruce—but it looks like you have a ways to go before you catch up with your old pal.

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