Our Wish For 2018: More H.I.T.A.


It was back in 2009 that then-alderman Dave Schmidt, with less than two years’ of City Council experience under his belt, decided to challenge first-term mayor Howard Frimark’s bid for re-election. Schmidt’s political platform became embodied in the acronym: “H.I.T.A.”: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

Honesty, as in telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Schmidt, a trial attorney, was familiar with that concept because it’s part of the oath witnesses take when testifying in a court of law. Too many politicians don’t seem to discover it until they hear it repeated by the witnesses testifying against them or their colleagues in federal corruption trials.

Integrity, as in firm adherence to a code of conduct or ethical values. Schmidt’s code of government was simple: The best government that Park Ridge taxpayers are willing to pay for.

Transparency, as in an openness characterized by the sharing of important information with the citizenry so that it can hold its governing officials accountable. Even before he came up with H.I.T.A., Schmidt walked his transparency talk by blowing the whistle on questionable Frimarkian closed-session discussions about the City’s acquisition of 720 Garden.

Accountability, as in the assumption of responsibility for the policies, decisions and actions; and the obligation to be answerable to the citizenry for them. Schmidt proved how that works on several occasions by admitting, and publicly apologizing for, mistakes he made; and promising not to make them again. And he didn’t.

H.I.T.A.’s an easy philosophy to understand and implement – assuming that you actually believe in the concepts and want to abide by them. But if you’re a “politician,” it’s your worst enemy. Which is why so few embrace it, and why others fear it so much that they mock it in the hope of undermining its legitimacy in the minds of the citizenry.

There was a bit of mockery (“Who would ever want to watch that?”) almost two decades ago when this editor, who served on the Park Ridge Park District board from 1997 to 2005, led that body in becoming the first unit of local government to videotape meetings so that taxpayers no longer had to rely solely on slanted and/or sketchy newspaper articles, or sketchy meeting minutes.

Schmidt followed that lead when he became mayor in 2009, using some of his mayoral salary to buy the camera that was mounted on the back wall of the Council chambers; and using some of his mayoral goodwill to enlist a couple of supporters to run the camera and upload the videos onto the Internet before the City’s website could accommodate them.

Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 followed suit in August 2011 after Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann, Susan Sweeney and friends showed up at a meeting with their own video camera, embarrassing a reluctant school board into doing what it had previously resisted. And, as we recall, the Maine Township High School District 207 board finally jumped on that bandwagon a couple/few years later.

This editor also spearheaded bringing video to the Library Board meetings in 2015. And Ms. Sweeney – with the assistance of fellow newly-elected trustees Dave Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – was instrumental in getting that backwater of local government, Maine Township, to videotape its board meetings after they were elected to that board last April.

Why is H.I.T.A. so important when it comes to government?

Because, unlike in most organizations where the people at the bottom are accountable to the people at the top, in government it’s supposed to be the reverse: The people at the top are supposed to be accountable – at least in theory – to the people at the bottom.

What’s problematic about that situation, however, is that it’s the people at the top – the elected and appointed officials, and the public employee bureaucrats – who have most of the resources (money provided, ironically, by the people at the bottom; and manpower provided by public employees both on and off the taxpayers’ clock) needed to manipulate the information flowing to the people at the bottom, thereby manipulating their beliefs and opinions.

That’s why H.I.T.A. and its accoutrements – like published-in-advance meeting packets, videotaped meetings and keeping closed sessions to the barest legal minimum – are essential if we are to avoid what has been recently been described as a “post-truth society”: Where special interests at both ends of the political spectrum wallow in their own (usually woefully incomplete) facts and create their own ideological “echo chambers” such as can be observed on both Fox News and MSNBC, and even from time to time in our own local newspapers.

Which is why we concur with Glenn Greenwald: “Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power,…its enabling force. Transparency is the only real antidote.”

Along with Honesty, Integrity and Accountability, of course.

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