We'll see whether our county tax dollars keep going to fight transparency laws
Will the Freedom of Information Act and other Illinois open-government laws once again be in the crosshairs of the McHenry County Board’s lobbying group?
We’ll find out Thursday morning, whether the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee talks about it or not.
On the committee’s agenda is a discussion of the legislation it wants to prioritize when the General Assembly’s next legislative session starts in January. That, of course, means they will identify the issues or bills the lobbyist with Metro Counties of Illinois asks lawmakers to support or oppose.
And as I revealed in an Aug. 23 story, the group that lobbies on behalf of the state’s 14 largest counties, and by proxy the county governments themselves, don't seem to think very highly of Illinois’ newly-strengthened sunshine laws.
Among the bills that Metro Counties is pushing during the present General Assembly:
• A bill allowing governments to publish their meeting and taxation notices on their websites rather than the local newspaper (because it’s more convenient for us to regularly visit a dozen government websites twice a month than to read the Northwest Herald over a bowl of Cheerios).
• A bill allowing governments to go into closed session to discuss “potential or real” fraud risks. (That won’t be abused, right? “The state is defrauding us with late state aid payments! Let’s talk about our budget in closed session ...”).
• A bill allowing governments to deny FOIA requests if the information requesters seek is online (if you’re too old to want a computer or too poor to buy one, well, maybe you should leave government to younger people with money).
Among the bills that Metro Counties is opposing:
• A bill requiring that meeting agendas be “sufficiently descriptive” for the public to determine what public bodies will discuss and vote upon (because you’re better off not knowing, especially in Illinois. Trust us. We’re the government.).
• Bills requiring the state website to have a searchable database of all county, township and municipal employee salaries, and an online database of local tax rates and to what funds they’re extended. (C’mon, you whiners, it’s not like your property tax bills increased while your home values fell or anything crazy like that.)
These aren't all of the bills that their lobbyist is pushing. And by the way, it's your tax dollars that are funding the effort to scale back the laws mandating your right to know.
Some people in county government were mighty sore when I wrote the story on how you're paying to help government keep you in the dark. They even addressed my story in a subsequent legislative committee meeting, which means they were upset enough to skip right away to step two of government's three-step procedure for dealing with unflattering watchdog journalism: Blame the media.
(If you're curious, the three steps are as follows: Hunker down and hope it blows over. If that doesn't work, blame the media and hunker back down. If that doesn't work, bury the issue in an ad hoc committee, preferably one that cancels more meetings than it holds.)
To be clear, I’ve almost never had to pull teeth to get information from McHenry County government, a fact they pointed out when they complained about my story. But McHenry County is one government out of 7,000 in the state. McHenry County's general rule of openness doesn’t give their Metro Counties lobbyist an excuse to work to change state law to make it easier for other Illinois governments with less-than-stellar reputations to keep information from the public.
And as for spending our tax money to work against us, that's just unpardonable.
The meeting is set to start at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.
Senior Reporter Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.