Open government is not just a good idea, it is a requirement.
The McHenry County State’s Attorney and the Illinois Attorney General’s offices are teaming up to sponsor an April 26 seminar on open government that all area public officials should attend.
Open Government 101, which will be held free of charge from 7-9 p.m. at McHenry County College, will provide individuals in attendance with a better understanding of Illinois’ Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts. The seminar is an opportunity for both new and veteran officeholders to familiarize themselves with open-government laws.
This is an important aspect of a government official’s job and should be treated as such. Board members, as well as the lawyers, need to have a thorough understanding of the laws and how governing bodies need to comply with them. Government should err of the side of being open. Even innocent mistakes can create suspicion and trust issues with the public.
While we would like all governing bodies in the county to attend the seminar, there are a few – most notably school districts 46 and 300 – that we would like to see get engraved invitations. Both districts have had woes in meeting open government requirements.
District 300’s board has used questionable justifications to closed meetings to discuss a lack of funds to honor two dead employees, parochial school transportation, fleet-replacement costs, starting a district newsletter and allowing the District 300 Foundation to solicit funds during registration.
Prairie Grove District 46 has closed meetings to discuss the district’s bonding authority and school finances, and the state’s attorney is investigating a complaint over how the district handled a new contract for Superintendent Mary Fasbender.
Public officials can find themselves immersed in controversy over even mundane matters if they fail to understand open government laws.