Monday, May 22, 2006

Blagojevich breaking the law?

When it comes to Rod Blagojevich's Inspector General's office, mum's the word -- except lately when Rod needs to leak IG results for public relations purposes.

The Sun-Times on Sunday exposed how super insider and Blagojevich pal Al Ronan, who was lobbying for gaming interests, got Lynda Mlinarich hired at the Illinois Gaming Board and then blocked a Gaming Board attempt to fire her. A Blagojevich spokeswoman defended the administration be revealing material that is not supposed to be made public.

The basis for the Gaming Board's complaint against Mlinarich included her failure to report she had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which the board said was a violation of the Gaming Board code of conduct, Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.

The inspector general, however, ruled that code didn't apply in this case because Mlinarich was subpoenaed involving McPier, not the Gaming Board.

"There was no violation of the Gaming Board code of conduct because the subpoena was related to when she worked at McPier. There was no basis for termination," Ottenhoff said.

Similarly, the inspector general found no wrongdoing involving Mlinarich and government credit cards.

"After the Gaming Board raised this, we had the inspector general look into the matter. Her determination was that the allegations of the misuse of the McPier credit cards were not tied to Ms. Mlinarich," Ottenhoff said.

Blagojevich's spokeswoman spilled a lot of information about an Inspector General investigation that is supposed to be secret.

(d) Unless otherwise provided in this Act, all investigatory files and reports of the Office of an Executive Inspector General, other than quarterly reports, are confidential, are exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, and shall not be divulged to any person or agency, except as necessary (i) to the appropriate law enforcement authority if the matter is referred pursuant to this Act, (ii) to the ultimate jurisdictional authority, (iii) to the Executive Ethics Commission; or (iv) to another Inspector General appointed pursuant to this Act.

(Source: P.A. 93‑617, eff. 12‑9‑03.)

Of course the law that makes it secret is bad public policy but it has shielded Blagojevich from a lot of embarrassment the last two years or so. The Tribune noticed this last year in a May 23 story.

It also highlights how the state's new ethics laws, aimed at shining more sunlight on Illinois government, can often become a shield that prevents public release of information.

Results of investigations by the state's executive inspector general are kept secret. The chairman of a state ethics panel said even he can't see the inspector general's reports. And even a letter from the inspector general to the chairman of a House panel reviewing Central Management was labeled "confidential correspondence" and kept from public view.

"Despite the best of intentions, we have inadvertently created a mechanism that frustrates the very purpose we were trying to achieve -- greater transparency in government," said Rep. John Frichey (D-Chicago), who has backed efforts to open up the ethics law. "We now have a system more suited for the former Eastern Europe than for Illinois."

So Blagojevich uses the secrecy of the law to shield information from the public and to selectively leak it when it serves his purposes. Again, where is state Attorney General Lisa Madigan?

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