Public Watchdog.org

Time For Transparency On Both Elected And Appointed Officials

01.17.12

If you asked most Park Ridge residents who the mayor was, would they answer “Dave Schmidt”? 

Maybe. 

But if you asked those same residents who their alderman was, we suspect even many of those who got Schmidt right might not know the answer.  Heck, based on purely anecdotal evidence, a lot of them would be hard pressed to tell you what ward they lived in, much less who represents that ward on the City Council.

No matter how you look at it, that’s pretty pathetic.  And that explains a lot about why City government – and its local counterparts at the School Districts and the Park District – have not functioned as well as they could have, and as well as they should have, for the past 15-20 years, especially in delivering services cost-effectively.

But even those who might be able to name both the mayor and their alderman would be hard-pressed to tell you much more about those two elected officials, such as their occupations and similar background information.  That’s because the City’s website doesn’t disclose a whole lot of information about those elected officials.

The “City Council” page of the City’s website doesn’t reveal much more than their names, some basic contact information, and the general nature of their occupations.  So Mayor Schmidt is described as a “Law Partner Owner” rather than as a partner in the 17-attorney Loop law firm of Chittenden, Murday & Novotny, with a practice concentrated in the areas of ERISA and insurance coverage litigation.  And Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd) is identified as a “Business Owner (graphics arts specialist company)” instead of as the owner of Loop-based CrossTech Communications, Inc.

Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st) is simply described as “Retired,” with no inkling of when he retired or what he did before retirement – as compared to Ald. Jim Smith (3rd), who at least is identified as a “Retired Computer Consultant.”

Sure, interested constituents could try to Google their way to more information.  But without some basic information about the subject official, that could be an onerous task.  Besides, why should they have to?  Why shouldn’t the City post a resume (or curriculum vitae for you Latinists) on the City’s website for each of those officials that contains a variety of useful information, including not only their employment backgrounds but also their educational backgrounds, organization memberships, etc.?

Not only would such information provide the voters/taxpayers with a better sense of who these elected officials are, it would also aid them in obtaining additional information about the officials through Google and other databases.

But information posted about our elected officials is voluminous compared to what the City publishes about the folks who fill its committees, commissions and task forces.  As can be seen from that list, all the public is told about them is their names, their term expirations and, on the rarest of occasions, their occupations (e.g., the Electrical Commission’s Ken Boyce is a “Professional Engineer”). 

Frankly, that’s unacceptable.

These people are charged by the City Council with a variety of duties, responsibilities and authority.  In the case of the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, those bodies actually have plenary authority over certain matters that cannot be reviewed and over-ridden by the Council.  That’s real power, yet what does the public know about them?

Next to nothing.

Because they are appointees, the public does not get the kind of information about them that it tends to get from the newspapers and the campaign literature of the people who run for elective office.  For that reason, one could even argue that the public deserves to have more information about these appointees on the City’s website than is disclosed about their elected counterparts. 

Fortunately, each of those appointees submits a fairly detailed application form when seeking their appointments.  The publication of just those forms alone would go a long way toward identifying the members of those committees, commissions and task forces, their backgrounds and their qualifications – while causing a minimum amount of work for City staff in charge of the website.  Just scan the applications and link the resulting pdf to the appointee’s name.

Transparency demands that kind of information.  And it’s well past time City Hall provided it.

And also well past time the same was provided by both school districts and the Park District.

To read or post comments, click on title.

18 comments so far

We elect Alderman? No kidding? I thought that the City Manager ran the show. Do the Alderman have any actual power, or are they just figure heads?

I didn’t realize that I needed to grease the Aldermen, Mayor and City Manager in order to do business here?

Thanks for the tip.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It almost seems like sarcasm. Almost.

We know of no City official who has even been accused of accepting “grease” in connection with their jobs, but that would be a good reason for a visit to the U.S. Attorney at 219 S. Dearborn.

Thank you for bringing up what should be an absolute “no brainer”. I mean how hard can this be?? The only thing I would add to your post is that the Mayor said the following during his campaign:

“I will also do whatever is necessary to publish more detailed personal profiles of all elected and appointed city officials, including the members of our committees, commissions and task forces – so that the public might better understand the experience and backgrounds of all of the people who represent them in city government”.

You go to great lengths to point ut all the things the Mayor has accomplished. Some I agree with and some I think are a bit of a reach. Can we at least agree that the Mayor defined this as a major issue in his campaign (he put it on his web site) and proceeded to do nothing about it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Absolutely.

This does seem like something that nobody should have an objection to. I like the idea of the applications being posted so we can see what the appointed officials’ credentials were/are.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It seems like low-hanging fruit to us. Hopefully, somebody at City Hall will decide to pick it.

That list of appointed officials is huge and I don’t know anything about most of them, including why they were chosen for their positions. Information, please.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Join the club.

When I was appointed to a commission, someone released our applications to the media. I remember reading an article, probably in the Herald-Advocate, that gave a bit of biographical info about each Commissioner and my little blurb definitely contained an excerpt from my application. So in this one instance, at least, city hall was forthcoming with some info.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t take much comfort in the idea that even a blind squirrel can find an occasional acorn. Transparency should be an everyday, automatic, reflexive, default-mechanism principle and practice for all of our local governmental bodies. Unfortunately, they still haven’t figured it out, as we noted in today’s post about the Park District and its Senior Center.

Seems as though your call has been heard…the Mayor is exploring “the possibility of posting biographical information about members of our boards, commissions and task forces on the City’s website.” This will be discussed at next week’s City Council meeting. Nice work.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks, but this is another one of those things that a well-run City government would have had in place years ago.

Now let’s see if they post each board/commission/task force member’s application form for the appointment, which is what should be posted with the agenda materials in advance of that person’s being interviewed by the Mayor’s Advisory Council and again as part of the Council “packet” prior to any confirmation vote. And let’s see if they expand the sketchy info currently posted for the Mayor and the Aldermen themselves. And when they finally get around to it, the job application forms for employees could also go up so that the taxpayers get a full view of what they’re paying for.

This is not just an issue of “transparency,” which we highly favor, but one involving the right of privacy – a right that predates FOIA by approx. 100 years and that shouldn’t be trampled on just because a nimrod makes some wild, vague and unsubstantiated allegations when things aren’t to his liking. FOIA has exemptions for certain personal information of public appointees. We wouldn’t want buzz’s meter to start running to redact out the exempt material from those applications would we? Or does this logic only apply to ald b’s request for texts? Appointees have privacy rights too, read FOIA. Hopefully the motivation behind this is not to obtain information to attack our volunteers on this blog or elsewhere simply to gain some political advantage?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re not quite sure what you’re asking, but we’ll take a stab at translating – and answering – your comments as follows, assuming the first sentence is just your quoting us:

1. FOIA has exemptions for certain personal information of public appointees. We wouldn’t want buzz’s meter to start running to redact out the exempt material from those applications would we? To the extent any information in the applications is FOIA-exempt, we suspect those exemptions are simple and straight-forward enough that Buzz’s discretion in determining what is private and what is “public” – as in the evaluation of whether e-mails and text messages are private or public – would not be needed.

2. Or does this logic only apply to ald b’s request for texts? The distinction between private and public information, whether in e-mails or text messages, is what likely will require Buzz’s discretion.

3. Appointees have privacy rights too, read FOIA. Hopefully the motivation behind this is not to obtain information to attack our volunteers on this blog or elsewhere simply to gain some political advantage? We are not aware of anything in FOIA that would exempt the information contained in applications for appointment to public offices. The motivation beyond this request is transparency and accountability related to the qualifications of applicants for non-elective public offices. If you can’t see that, there’s no further explanation we can offer that will help you.

This is not just an issue of “transparency,” which we highly favor, but one involving the right of privacy – a right that predates FOIA by approx. 100 years and that shouldn’t be trampled on just because a nimrod makes some wild, vague and unsubstantiated allegations when things aren’t to his liking. Appointees have privacy rights too. Read FOIA – there are specific rules that need to be followed to protect private information of such appointees. If you want the applications published Buzz will have to start his meter running like a Manhantan taxi in order to distinguish between the information that is subject to disclosure and information that is protected under FOIA. I hope this blog is not just invoking transparency where convenient (ie: let’s protect alderman texts but not the appointees information) to use information to attack those volunteers who serve the city without compensation. Will the information be used to “judge a book by its cover” that the person doesn’t have a law degree or didn’t go to the best school must automatically mean he/she is not qualified? how about attending the public meeting of the individual appointee in question and judging them by their actions? you called upon ald B to reveal his motive (he says general transpanrency and that is not good enough for his request) but what is yours? could this just be unsubstaniated allegations or are there specific individuals that you are trying to single out?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Glad to see you’re not letting your self-esteem issues get in the way of your paranoia, but all we recall calling on Little Tommy to do is identify what he expects to find from the results of his request; and then go ahead and file the request.

maybe little tommy wishes to champion transparency and accountability in government generally? is that not an honorable cause?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Much as we enjoy all this quality time with you, you’re starting to become just a tad boring. As for Little Tommy, he wouldn’t know transparency or accountability if it showed up, bit him on the behind, and said: “We’re here!” You do know he’s a “businessman,” don’t you?

Actually…check Illinois FOIA as to your comment: “We are not aware of anything in FOIA that would exempt the information contained in applications for appointment to public offices. The motivation beyond this request is transparency and accountability related to the qualifications of applicants for non-elective public offices. If you can’t see that, there’s no further explanation we can offer that will help you.”
exempt information includes “personal information maintained with respect to employees [wait for it] APPOINTEES, or elected officials of any public body or applicants for those positions” is exempted from inspection and copying under Illinois FOIA. if you need a citation to it let me know.

Are you stating that looking at a one page application or even a resume can tell you more about a person’s qualifications than can attending a public meeting or having the council interviews made public? Or will having that application at your disposal make it easier to do the dirty work for your friends sitting around the horseshoe? Ald B, those elected officials supporting a knee jerk reaction to throw up on a website information without obtaining consent (apparently being influenced by this blogger – guess there is some meat to little tommy’s requests for texts to see the man behind the curtain), and the blogger of this website should just identify what they expect to find in the texts or the appointee applications. Otherwise give appointees opportunity to submit the information they desire to have displayed openly on a website rather than making public a document that could contain information that would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy”. If you haven’t read Illinois FOIA examples of such information include personal emails, phone numbers and even address and defines “private information” exempt under the Act as “unique identifiers, including a person’s…home or personal telephone numbers, and personal email addresses” and also includes “home addresses”. It also exempts “disclosure of information that is highly personal or objetionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.” Now I guess you know that there is a provision that exempts information submitted on the appointee application. You are welcome.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we responded to another of your comments, the information that would be exempt (such as what you identified) can easily be deleted by any authorized clerical person, without the need for Buzz Hill’s legal expertise. Once again, we can’t conceive of anything else that might be contained in the applications which would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” but feel free to let your imagination run wild.

Once again, whether it be you, Little Tommy, or any other curious person, either file the FOIA request and use the process or go back to your Enquirer and TMZ.

I love the “business man” comment…and actually I love your website…I don’t always agree with it but it is informative and I welcome the public discourse on local politics. Sorry I am boring…guess that is why I have time to put up these comments. No hard feelings. 🙂

sorry if this double posts – I didn’t see it appear. As to your comment that you know of nothing in FOIA that would exempt the information on an appointee application you should read Illinois FOIA which makes exempt from disclosure “personnel files and personal information maintained with resepct to employees, [wait for it] APPOINTEES, or elected officials of any public body or APPLICANTS for those positions.” if you need the citation let me know.
FOIA protects from disclosure of “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” Examples can include home address, phone and email. FOIA prohibits disclosure of information that is highly ersonal or objectionable to a reasonable person and in which the subject’s right to privacy outweighs any legitimate public interest in obtaining the information.” Those wishing to support a knee jerk transparency throw everything up on the website reaction should be careful as we may need Buzz to limit what can be used from the application and/or obtain consent from each and every applicant or appointee…do we want to waste city resources on such an exercise? what can a one page application really tells us about the qualifications of any individual. Why not simply make the interview seesion with the council committee open to the public and judge for yourself. Or do certain elected officials and/or this blogger simply want the information readily available to use to support their agendas?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The “one page application” can be expected to reveal those things “about the qualifications of any individual” who applies for appointment (a) that those applicants believed justified their appointment; and (b) that the aldermen considered in making or rejecting those appointments. And, months and years after those appointments are made, anyone wanting to check those qualifications will be able to do so easily and conveniently on-line.

And your problem with that is what, exactly?

the problem is that the individuals did not fill out those applications with the expectation that the information would be put on a webisite. allow the appointees to select what information should be displayed (there are some crazies out there that take personal information from facebook etc. and use it to stalk someone or retaliate or simply pursue inappropriate behavior because they find a person attractive etc.) Why isn’t FOIA enough in this situation. If someone wants the information they have that avenue and no one needs to waste the time now editing out personal information unless and until someone requests it through the proper channels. all meeting are subject to the open meeting act so why not attend and figure out if the person is qualified?

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re going to invoke the FOIA standard for the application information, than the decision of what to include or redact as “exempt” is not – and should not be – up to the applicants but to the appropriate City official(s). Got a problem with that?

since there was no prior disclosure about putting information on a website the problem is with being fair to a persons reasonable expectations of how the information they submitted would be used. we still expect fairness in government right?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bunk! There is no reasonable expectation of privacy for the contents of an application submitted to the City Council for appointment as a public official.

yet you argue Lisa Madigan is wrong in saying no expectation of privacy when an elected official is texting or emailing during a public meeting on the public’s time about a public matter…well then if you want those applications so badly stand behind little tommy and submit your FOIA request…little tommy and little bobby can then spend quality time together since you seem obsessed with him.

EDITOR’S NOTE: No, we didn’t say Madigan is wrong, we just said that her opinion will likely be challenged in the courts.

And, once again, the applications we want to see posted on the City’s website are not “private communications” like some of the e-mails and text messages you want the public officials to voluntarily disclose without your filing a FOIA request.

the expectation for the contents of an application submitted to the City Coucil for appointment as a public official is that the information is subject to the protections and the accessibility as set forth in FOIA (see Atty General Madigan’s guide of which you say you have a copy – take a look inside it). I guess you don’t have to worry about using FOIA because you simply blog about the topic for which you want information subject to FOIA and rather than submitting a FOIA request your lapdogs introduce the topic at council to make the information available on the website. Must be nice to have elected officials jump at your every suggestion regardless of how hypocritical and lacking in consistenty.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What can we say: we have good ideas that even this Council occasionally recognizes.

But if we truly had “lapdogs” on the Council, City government would be very different – and more transparent, accountable, efficient and fiscally sound – than it currently is or has been for more than a decade. Whether enough of the current aldermen figure out how to govern in other than the failed ways their predecessors have governed in putting the City behind the 8-ball over the past decade, however, remains to be seen.

The fact that you felt the “lapdog” description warranted a denial from you speak volumes. Also, when you say “we” do you mean Trizna, Schmidt and Knight? or are you just referring to your multiple personalities?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That so much “speak[s] volumes” to you could explain all those voices you keep hearing. Get back to us when you have anything to share on a substantive issue.

Will do kettle…bye for now



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