Public Watchdog.org

Sunshine Week 2018: Better Late Than Never

03.14.18

Anyone who has read even a couple of posts on this blog knows that we’re obsessed with “sunshine” in government, our focus being local government here in Park Ridge.

Which is why we’re embarrassed that it’s already halfway through “Sunshine Week” – started in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to promote a dialogue about the importance of transparency, open government, and freedom of information – and we haven’t even acknowledged it. And even more embarrassed that we’ve overlooked every year since our post of 03.16.2009

Years before the late Mayor Dave Schmidt got elected in April 2009 on the platform of H.I.T.A. – Honesty, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability – and made those principles the hallmark of his sadly-abbreviated tenure from 2009 until his sudden death in March 2015, this blog had begun regularly advocating for transparency, starting with its “Statement of Principles” published in its third post, on May 8,.2005:

“Government operations must be transparent so that both our elected and appointed officials can be held strictly accountable to their constituents.”

This blog’s editor, as a member of the Park Ridge Park District Board from 1997 to 2005, was instrumental in getting that public body to become the first unit of local government in our community to videotape its meetings and make the tapes available for public viewing.

Shortly after his election, Schmidt dragged his first City Council into doing likewise, going so far as to donate the camera and enlist supporters George Kirkland and Charlie Melidosian (now the 5th Ward alderman) to, respectively, run the camera and upload the videos to his own Motionbox site until WOW provided a better system as part of its licensing to provide cable service in Park Ridge.

And through the subsequent efforts of Schmidt and his successor, Mayor Marty Maloney, the City applied for, and received, the “Sunshine Award” from the Illinois Policy Institute in both 2014 and 2015 – making it 1 of only 72 Illinois taxing bodies (among the thousands of those in Illinois) to receive that award in 2015, while also increasing its transparency score from 86% to 94.8%.

Not until the summer of 2011 did Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 jump on that bandwagon, but only after being shamed into it by Marshall Warren, Char Foss-Eggemann and Susan Sweeney, who brought in their own camera to tape that School Board’s August 8, 2011 meeting and then upload it to a YouTube site labeled “sunshine4d64.” We understand that Maine Twp. High School District 207 started taping its Board meeting sometime after that

But it took the election of Reformers David Carrabotta, Claire McKenzie and Susan Sweeney (yes, that Susan Sweeney) to the Maine Township Board last April to finally bring videotaped meetings to that previously opaque political backwater.

Make no mistake about it: When it comes to government, information is power. And the career bureaucrats who populate so much of government know that if they want to manipulate the opinions or decision-making of elected/appointed officials, or of the general public, they can do so by concealing the relevant information that doesn’t serve their purpose; and, worse yet, they are being paid by us taxpayers to do so.

Unfortunately, too many of our elected and appointed officials either knowingly and spinelessly accede to the bureaucrats’ manipulations, or they cowardly hide information and documents from us taxpayers in order to limit the scrutiny of their own decisions and decision-making. They seize upon every opportunity the Illinois Open Meetings Act (“IOMA”) provides for them to run into closed-session meetings even though IOMA merely permits, but does not require, any such closed sessions.

Exhibit A: The D-64 Board, which rarely has seen a closed session opportunity it won’t exploit. From what we’ve seen, heard and inferred, those folks – under the thumb of president Tony “Who’s The Boss?” Borrelli, who’s under the thumb of Supt. Laurie “I’m The Boss!” Heinz – have more substantive discussions and do more public business in closed session than in open session, with the latter doing little more than satisfying the barest IOMA requirements regarding the taking of actual votes.

So as we find ourselves in the middle of Sunshine Week, we embed here a guest essay from the editor of the Valdosta (GA) Daily Times and ask you to take a minute to read it, repeating the following lines out loud both for effect and to enhance recall:

“Every action of government is your business.

Every document held in government halls is your piece of paper.

Every penny spent by government is your money.”

Remember: Those low-paid or unpaid “volunteer” elected and appointed officials, just as much as those well-paid and over-paid bureaucrats (including our teachers and school administrators), work for US – not the other way around.

To read or post comments, click on title.

5 comments so far

Too bad Mayor Dave was taken from us so early. H.I.T.A. was just starting to take hold, but I think it already is being walked back by some of the people at City Hall and elsewhere in local gov’t.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We agree as Mayor Dave AND Ald. Knight, both of whom demonstrated their commitment to H.I.T.A. throughout their time in office. And, unfortunately, Ald. Bob Wilkening never had the chance to show us what he could do before his demise.

As for the current City Administration walking back H.I.T.A., the only example we can think of is letting themselves to be intimidated by the “new” City Attorney’s legally unfounded (and, in our opinion, erroneous) interpretation of the Personnel Records Review Act (“PRRA”), which we wrote about in our 05.27.2016 and our 07.26.2017 posts.

It looks like a lack of transparency is returning to City Hall, judging from Tuesday’s Herald-Advocate article about Jason Leavitt’s “retirement.”

“The city of Park Ridge has declined to release the full report that was completed as part of that internal investigation,” citing “harm it demonstrably would create to the reputation of the city, the public confidence in the department, and the morale and efficient operation of the police department.”

Talk about sweeping the dirt under the carpet!

I would expect that from School District 64, or District 207, but Mayor Schmidt and his Council never would have hid this information from the residents, or let Chief Kaminski get away with hiding it because it probably makes him or others look bad.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We didn’t see that article until you pointed it out: Shame on us.

The situation the article is talking about – Leavitt’s alleged punching out of a teenage P.R. resident while he was handcuffed in the back of a squad car – led to a federal civil rights suit that cost the City a $185,000 settlement AND an additional $175,600 in legal fees to get to that settlement. That incident figured into our posts of 12.14.2011 and 08.12.2014.

We’ll be interested in seeing whether the H-A succeeds in its appeal of the City’s denial of the H-A’s FOIA.

Meanwhile, we’re more than a little disappointed at the way the Council is wielding the broom.

Agreed, Bnonymous. A total cover-up unworthy of our community.

It sounds like the mayor, the city council, the police dept and the city attorney are pulling a Chicago-style Laquan McDonald cover-up, except that (happily) nobody got killed, just punched out.

But it’s a cover up for sure. Are you going to let them get away with it, PW?

EDITOR’S NOTE: A “Laquan McDonald” analogy might be a little strong, but we do agree that it sure does seem like a cover-up.

Unlike the Chicago situation where the consensus is that Mayor Rahm directed the cover-up to enhance his re-election bid, however, this cover-up looks/sounds to have been orchestrated by Chief Kaminski, with the likely assistance of the City Attorney.

We’ve started asking questions and expect to publish a post about this highly NON-transparent affair.

The video of Wednesday night’s Budget Workshop provided plenty of other topics during the budget dyou will have a field day on. Of particular interest will be the introduction of a proposed budget item to increase the Aldermens compensation!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We couldn’t find the aldermanic compensation increase in either the materials or on the video.



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