Public Watchdog.org

Transparency On City Officials Need Be Neither Invasive Nor “Arduous” (Updated 02.21.12)

02.20.12

In our post “Time For Transparency On Both Elected And Appointed Officials” (01.17.12) we advocated the posting on the City’s website of more information about our public officials – especially our appointed ones on boards, commissions and task forces who don’t go through the electoral process and, consequently, can be pretty much unknown quantities to the people they represent and serve.

That post received only 5 comments until this past Thursday (02.16.12), when a stream of critical comments commenced.  We can only assume that the new interest in this topic – primarily by one commentator posting under 2-3 monikers – was prompted by the City’s posting of its agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting, which includes both a “Transparency Report” item and the appointment/re-appointment of 11 persons to City boards and commissions.   

In the first portion of that Transparency Report, City Mgr. Jim Hock notes that the City’s performance on the Illinois Policy Institute’s transparency analysis is 68.5%, good for 24th place among the rated governmental bodies.  The City is the only governmental body from our community listed by IPI, so 24th place is better than a no-show, even if 68.5% tends to be a “D” in most grading systems.

City Information Director Diane Nelson’s portion of the Transparency Report, however, reveals her concerns that, as to the information about board, commission and task force appointees contained in their application forms, “the current form has information that would need to be redacted before posting”; and that, because “we didn’t tell applicants at the time of completion [and submission of the application forms] that they would be published, [the successful applicants] may have some objections or concerns.”

Such concerns are to be expected from local officials whose governmental bodies have operated for so long in secrecy and semi-secrecy.  Not surprisingly, and as is apparent from Nelson’s memorandum, even this modest effort at transparency came not from staff but “in response to the mayor’s request.”

If we can view this as a “teaching moment,” however, we would remind Ms. Nelson and all City officials of Jefferson’s admonition: “When a man assumes a public trust he should consider himself a public property.” 

All of these board, commission and task force members voluntarily sought appointment as public officials, with all the powers and the public trust that come with it.  While that doesn’t require them to open up their homes, refrigerators, sock drawers and tax returns to public scrutiny, even Atty. Gen. Madigan’s FOIA Guide states (at Page 17) that “basic identification” – such as names, addresses, and other information that is sufficiently well-known so as not to constitute “confidential or private” information – is not protected from disclosure by FOIA; nor is any other information “bearing on the public duties of public employees or officials…[to] be considered an invasion of personal privacy” (at Page 18).

The fact that all of the information requested by the City’s standard form Application is part of the process for assessing the applicant’s qualifications for appointment to public office suggests that such information “[bears] on the public duties of public…officials” within the disclosure provisions of FOIA.  And unless those applicants submitted their applications with a prior agreement from the City that the contents would be kept confidential, we are aware of nothing in FOIA or City ordinances requiring confidentiality.

That’s one problem solved.

As for Ms. Nelson’s more mundane concerns about the “extremely arduous task” of “[l]ocating, organizing, redacting, scanning and posting over 200 of these forms,” we would expect that somewhere over in City Hall is a drawer holding a file jacket with a label that reads “Boards & Commissions Applications” that should make the “locating” part a relatively non-“arduous” 10-second task.  And if there isn’t such a drawer or file, then somebody over at City Hall has some ‘splainin’ to do, because there darn well should be.   

With the “locating” part out of the way, in order to spare City staff the burdens of “organizing, redacting [and] scanning” those application forms (and spare the taxpayers the indirect costs thereof), this blog volunteers the services of its editor in that regard.  Given how Park Ridge simply adores volunteerism (isn’t that right, Taste Inc.?), how can the City not jump at this offer?  Heck, we won’t even try to skim the first $20,000 of savings for ourselves.

As for better information about the elected officials, let’s start with: name; residence address; City contact information (i.e., phone number and e-mail address); occupation; current/most recent employer; educational background (as on board/committee/commission application); and any prior City or local governmental position and experience.  That should provide the average citizen with far more relevant information about City officials than is currently available, accessible 24/7. 

And for those wanting even more information, there’s always the FOIA request.

BTW, how’s your FOIA request coming along, Ald. Bernick?

UPDATE:  Last night the City deferred discussion of the mayor’s “transparency” initiative to next Monday’s Council COW meeting.  Hopefully there will be a meaningful debate on this important issue, considering how many appointed officials fill the City’s boards, committees, commissions and task forces that wield some significant power over City issues and finances – despite literally nothing but their names currently posted on the City’s website.

Frankly, we look forward to hearing the objections from any officials who have a problem with the posting of the applications they filed with the City – albeit with their residence addresses and other contact information redacted, if they insist – in order to demonstrate their qualifications for appointment/reappointment.  And while they’re at it, hopefully those folks around The Horseshoe will discuss beefing up their own on-line resumes for public consumption.

To read or post comments, click on title.

11 comments so far

my dear misguided “friend”, since you apparently went to an online lawschool by your clearly superficial review of the applicable statute when you say “we are aware of nothing in FOIA or City ordinances requiring confidentiality.”…let me be of assitance:
You are likely offering your services to redact out “private information” which is defined, among other things, to include “home or personal telephone numbers and personal e-mail addresses” but also includes “unique identifiers” (yes let’s be a test case for that Park Ridge’s financial condition is such that we can spend money making law in the courts); but you completely overlook another category of information exempt from disclosure under FOIA, ie “Personal Information” which is information “if disclosed, would consitute a clearly unwarranted invastion of personal privacy, unless the disclosure is [wait for it bobbie] CONSENTED TO IN WRITING by the person who is the subject of the information” It also includes information that “is highly personal or objectionable to a reasonable [that or course bobbie excludes you] and in which the subject’s right to privacy [come one bobbie remember back to your online constitutional law class…here comes the balancing test that you want to so cavaliering dismiss by using a permanent marker to cross out email addresses] OUTWEIGHS ANY LEGITIMATE PUBLIC INTEREST IN obtaining the information.” there are also exemptions for law enforcement records, preliminary drafts, proposal and bids…but heck bobbie why read all the statute when you can get angry about a piece of it? Without consent or disclosure that information would be put on a website some may have disclosed information about family members (number of children, schools children attend in PR for one example – we would have to go through every 200 application to see what other examples exist) that should be kept confidential and is not allowed to be disclosed under FOIA. I’m sure you have no one that loves you enough that you would want to mention them in your application but for those that do show some respect. So….every application 200 in total will have to be reviewed and a determination made (hopefully by someone with a better understanding of the law than your blog suggests) will have to make a determination whether any such information is there or not and whether it is exempt or not. Kind of the same mess that you suggest would occur if texts and emails limited to one particular council meeting were made the subeject of a FOIA request. (please excuse any typos…hard to balance in a public toilet)

EDITOR’S NOTE: To the extent we (and Atty. Gen. Madigan, apparently) relied on the Ill. Supreme Court decision of Lieber v. Board of Trustees of Southern Illinois University, 176 Ill.2d 401, 680 N.E.2d 374 (1997) for the proposition that FOIA did not preclude disclosure of the names and addresses of individuals who had been accepted to attend SIU, we were wrong – because FOIA has since been amended to include names and addresses.

But besides the fiber problems, hanging out in public toilets pose other problems – as demonstrated by G. Harold Carswell and the wide-stance Senator.

Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.
Thomas Jefferson.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We concur.

lol…thomas jefferson has a saying appropo to even Bobbie..I believe he also can be attributed with the follwoing saying along those same lines: It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You already made that point and we already concurred, Zippy. Got anything else?

where to even start bobbie with your poor attempt to analogize that supreme court case to the situation at hand…you do realize that in that case “The court reasoned that the plaintiff requested information about individuals not yet enrolled in the university and not yet receiving educational services, and thus these individuals were neither students nor receiving a service from the university. ?Lieber, 176 Ill.2d at 411, 223 Ill.Dec. 641, 680 N.E.2d 374.” Are you seeking information about applicants for PR boards who are not yet appointees or were rejected? …if I read more than a few sentences of the case I am sure I can come up with numerous other ways you are wrong about the case. also interesting that the disclosure of such basic information had to be litigated…and you want to open up the floodgates of litigation (just what the city needs more legal expenses – i thought you are a fiscal conservative?)

btw: is that you in the adjacent stall?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sorry, Bnon (and VITW, and whoever else you’ve been masquerading as), but if publishing the approx. 30 comments you’ve submitted on this transparency issue since last Friday can’t resolve your anger and self-esteem issues – to say nothing of your admitted propensity for hanging out in public restrooms and your professed concern (ironically) about “stalkers” – we don’t have anything else to offer. So we’re cutting you off from commenting further on transparency, for your own good and because we’re bored with you.

If you really want to debate this transparency issue further, however, come out of the closet (of anonymity) and show up at next Monday night’s Council COW. Then you can explain to the assembled multitude why appointed officials like yourself should be so concerned about keeping private the information they submitted (without any expressed guaranty or reasonable expectation of “privacy”) to the City in their applications for commission appointments; why the public doesn’t deserve to know more than merely the names of the people who populate these public bodies; and what you personally are trying to conceal by your insistence on “flying under the radar” (an apt metaphor, don’t you agree?)

While I understand concerns about private information regarding kids, email addresses, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for residents to have access to info about public officials. I personally wouldn’t have completed my application any differently had I known my biographical info would be posted online, I guess because I don’t have anything to hide. Which leads me to wonder…what is it that people are so afraid of having revealed?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lies in the applications? An obvious lack of qualifications? Or maybe its all that personal information they included in the “Why do you desire this appointment” section of the application form, like their social security number, their kids’ names and ages, that they keep Krugerrands and loose diamonds in the fake RAID can under the kitchen sink, or the drugs they experimented with in college?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We meant it, Bnon et al. Unless you want to come out of the closet and sign your name to all your silliness, you’re cut-off for this post. See you Monday night?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sorry, Bnon, but “anonymous” doesn’t work for you anymore.

Come out of the closet, show up Monday night – without a mask or other tool of anonymity, of course – and explain to the Council how appointed officials should be able to conceal from the public the application information they submitted for their appointment. Share with them your theory of how an abusive ex-spouse or other ne’er do well will use that information to stalk someone who has made themself a public figure by virtue of obtaining a City appointment, and who can easily be found simply by looking on the City’s website for when that public figure’s board or commission meets. Yeah, go with that theory.

EDITOR’s NOTE: 30+ comments on one issue in less than a week is more “air time” than you deserve, bnon (or “Bnon” or “VITW”) – at least until you decide to man up and come out of the closet of anonymity. How about next Monday night at the Council COW – we checked, and your commission isn’t meeting again until March, so you don’t have a conflict.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bnon, we will look for you Monday night and listen to your “privacy concerns.” But wear a rose in your lapel to make yourself easier to identify.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Serious conversation about local government over coffee is one of our favorite pastimes, Bnon. But show up Monday night and let the Council hear your privacy concerns.

Editor:

Thanks for sparing us from further posts of BNON. I too challenge him/her to explain what private information is on the application that is inappropriate for public consumption.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Maybe he’s just concerned about the applicant who mistakenly included his/her colonoscopy results as a qualification for appointment to a board or commission. Heck, even we would agree to redact THAT.



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