Saturday, March 10, 2007

Secret government in Springfield

I am not surprised a major media outlet in Illinois tackled this one. It's no secret that under Governor Rod Blagojevich, obtaining a public document is nearly impossible. When I was a reporter years ago I used to struggle occasionally obtaining a public document from the Republican-run Governor's office, but usually got what I needed.

Today, in my conversations with my former colleagues in the reporting business, it is comical the legal excuses the governor's office gives for not turning over basic public information.

Associated Press just moved an overview story on the problem. Here are examples cited by reporter John O'Connor:

--Phone numbers that state employees dial on taxpayer-financed phones are off-limits to the public because releasing them would violate the Illinois Constitution, according to Blagojevich's Department of Transportation.

--After a prison psychologist in Dixon was held hostage for 25 hours and allegedly raped by a convicted sex offender, the Corrections Department withheld information on staffing levels that day and inmate assaults at the prison.

--The State Police won't release the arrest report on a Corrections Department chaplain who was pulled over for drunk driving in a state-owned car, saying it would be an "invasion of privacy."

--The Department of Central Management Services won't disclose the names of applicants for state jobs that wound up going to politically connected candidates, even though its own rules explicitly state that such lists are public record.
The Blagojevich administration clearly has taken the internal position that it would rather take the heat for occasional stories like this than release documents that will be converted into bad stories. Tactically, Blago's people are right. The downside is that withholding the documents is illegal.

Until Illinois' Freedom of Information Act is changed to give a law enforcement agency the legal authority to enforce the law, I'm afraid Blagojevich and those like him will continue to operate in secret.

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