Law may keep MCC info sealed
CRYSTAL LAKE – Former McHenry County College President Walt Packard’s performance records might not be made public, but the fight continues.
MCC refused to release Packard’s evaluations this summer after the Northwest Herald requested them.
The Northwest Herald had sought the evaluations to shed light on Packard’s dismissal. Packard stepped down from his position as president in early 2009 in the middle of a three-year contract. MCC officials initially said Packard resigned to care for his sick wife, but later said he was forced out by the Board of Trustees.
When the Illinois Attorney General’s Office ordered the information be made public, the college took the matter to court, where it is pending.
But a change in the law could keep the records sealed.
Performance evaluations no longer are considered public documents under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Legislators in both the House and Senate voted last week to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s amendatory veto, which sought to limit exemptions under the FOIA to law enforcement officers. All public employee performance evaluations are exempt from disclosure after last week’s action.
It was not clear how this will affect MCC’s court case with the Attorney General’s Office, even though the Northwest Herald requested the documents prior to the change in the law.
“I’m concerned about the impact the legislation will have on the pending case,” Public Access Counselor Cara Smith said. “We are analyzing that at this point.”
The Illinois Press Association believes all evaluation requests made under the FOIA before the change last week should be granted, said Josh Sharp, the IPA’s director of government relations.
“The legislation went into effect immediately, but it had no retroactivity,” Sharp said.
During the 11 months of this year that performance evaluations were deemed public records, several newspapers, including The State Journal-Register, obtained them. No reports of abuse – a fear of employee unions – surfaced, Sharp said.
He called the recent change “poor public policy,” comparing the public to the owner of a business.
“A business owner has access to the evaluations of his employees. And in the case of the state, the public is the business owner,” he said.
MCC officials and board members said releasing the performance evaluations would make the evaluation process less effective.
Packard continued to collect his nearly $200,000 annual salary until June 30. He remains enrolled in MCC’s medical, dental and vision insurance plans through Aug. 21, 2012. During that period, the college is obligated to pay for 75 percent of the premiums, which are expected to amount to more than $10,000 a year.
MCC Board Attorney Joseph Perkoski could not be reached for comment on the matter Wednesday.