By Adam Andrzejewski
Illinois citizens and the media have decent access to government information through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Because sunlight is the best disinfectant, politicians are now feeling the heat and as a result Illinois' transparency law is now under attack.
Newly appointed Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) Executive Director Roger Eddy recently showcased a model resolution designed to severely curtail citizen ability to access government information. Under the proposed changes, citizens would have to wait twice as long for government to even acknowledge a FOIA request. Secondly, expanding the "undue burden" exemption, government could reject more citizen requests. Thirdly, if rejected by government, citizens would have fewer options to enforce the laws in court. What's the most detrimental change? A steep fee hike before government would even approve a citizen request.
Why are IASB and Director Roger Eddy trying to clamp down on "the public's right to know"? What are they hiding?
Before his recent appointment as IASB chief, Roger Eddy was a state representative. The city of Paris gave $405 of city money, taxpayer money, to Eddy's campaign fund. One month ago, the Illinois Board of Elections cited the donation as a matter for the local state's attorney.
While a legislator, Roger Eddy double dipped as a school superintendent. The president and secretary of his school board were cronies. The president was the school's primary banker and Eddy's state representative office rented space from her bank. The school board president also functioned as treasurer of Eddy's campaign fund. The school board secretary was also employed as the chief of staff for Roger Eddy as state representative and was the immediate past chairman of Eddy's campaign fund. None of these relationships were ever disclosed on state ethics forms, but much of it was discovered or verified through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Politicians like Roger Eddy would rather operate in the dark. While a state representative, Roger Eddy was the chief sponsor of legislation that mandated IASB as the single source trainer of all Illinois school board members. Nine months after passage of the new law, Roger Eddy conveniently took the golden parachute as IASB chief.
As a private, nongovernment association, IASB has somehow managed to get themselves included in the teachers' retirement pension system. Taxpayers are now guaranteeing a government pension for these nongovernment workers. Because Eddy is also a former school superintendent, his taxpayer-funded teacher retirement pension could increase from approximately $70,000 to $140,000 in four short years!
The abuse of tax dollars goes on and on. But, here's the point: the schemes showcased above were exposed or verified by using public information or the Illinois FOIA law.
In 2009, Attorney General Lisa Madigan spearheaded FOIA reform, but now she's sitting on the sidelines. During her silence, the Legislature has twice since watered down the Illinois FOIA by adding exemptions.
So, who is going to protect "the public's right to know"?
Simply put, we the good and honest citizens of Illinois, need to speak up and talk to our state representatives and state senators. By the way, a little help from the news media, who will be most impacted professionally from this destruction of Illinois FOIA laws, would be most welcome.
Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of For the Good of Illinois.