We can’t stress the point enough.
An open government – one that respects the public’s rights to know what it is doing, how it is doing it, and how well it is performing – is the most efficient government, the one that works best for all of its constituency.
Governmental bodies that try to operate in secret, that withhold documents from the public, that err on the side of secrecy rather than openness, likely have something to hide. And governmental bodies that have something to hide likely are doing things they shouldn’t be doing – not in a democracy, anyway.
That’s why any attempts to curtail transparency laws should be considered an assault on democracy. Unfortunately, the assault continues in Springfield, where no fewer than seven bills have been filed this year that seek to scale back the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Among those bills:
• Senate Bill 2203 seeks to double response time from five to 10 days, eliminate the requirement that bodies provide the first 50 pages of a response free, and exempt applications to fill vacancies to public office. It also seeks to eliminate the requirement that public bodies ask the Attorney General’s permission to invoke the often-abused personal privacy or draft exemptions, and the mandate that public bodies offer fact-based reasons for FOIA denials.
• Senate Bill 132 proposes establishing a new process for procuring state engineering professional services, but exempts firms’ performance evaluations from disclosure.
• House Bill 1277 seeks to allow public bodies to close meetings with external auditors or audit committees to discuss internal control weaknesses, fraud or potential fraud.
• House Bill 1715 proposes that public bodies would not be required to provide copies of public records available on their websites.
“Personal privacy” and “cost” most often are cited by the legislators who file these bills.
“I’ve always been a proponent of full transparency, and I don’t want to go back on that, but the cost issue is a real issue,” SB2203 sponsor Sen. David Koehler, D-Pekin, told us last week. Koehler said he filed the bill on behalf of school districts and other government agencies who complained about the cost of complying with FOIA.
So the school districts that can give significant raises to administrators, teachers and other staff each year can’t afford to share information with the taxpayers who pay their salaries?
Of course, those of us who are not a part of the bureaucracy recognize this as nonsense.
We can’t allow the Koehlers of the world to make it more difficult to find out what our government bodies are up to, how they are spending our money.
We need to reject government’s efforts at secrecy at every turn.