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Question of the day

Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011

* I guess I should do a question before I return to my sick bed.

The setup, from the Tribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has denied requests for public records that might shed light on his decisions to raise vehicle fees and water rates and to legalize speeding camera tickets that could hit drivers with $100 fines.

It’s the latest in a pattern of records denials from the mayor, who proclaimed a new commitment to transparency at City Hall under his leadership.

After Emanuel this fall proposed a series of fee increases to help balance his budget, the Tribune filed requests for any internal City Hall documents to show how Emanuel came up with his plans to charge homeowners and drivers more, including emails, memos and any relevant contacts with outside companies or interests.

To date, the only internal document provided by the city is a PowerPoint demonstration on the need for water rate hikes, which consists mostly of background on the city’s water system. Some slides were removed by the city, which cited a broad exemption for “deliberative materials” under the Freedom of Information Act.

Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the city identified about 1,300 relevant emails each for the speed camera and water rate issues, and about 700 emails relevant to the vehicle sticker increases. But the Emanuel administration refused to produce them on the grounds that it would be too much trouble to remove any opinions or deliberations that they say they are allowed to withhold from the public under state law.

* The Question: Was Mayor Emanuel right to reject this FOIA request? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Aldyth - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 9:30 am:

    You are transparent or you are sort of transparent. We have way too much sort of transparent.

  2. - Robert - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 9:38 am:

    I voted no but hesitated a bit. Sometimes it is more difficult to get to a good outcome if everything has to be disclosed.

  3. - yinn - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 9:51 am:

    No. Just because they are allowed to withhold doesn’t mean they must withhold (except in certain cases, such as those covered by HIPAA rules). If it’s unduly burdensome they can ask for an extension in filling the request.

  4. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 9:52 am:

    According to statute: (5 ILCS 140/1.2)
    Sec. 1.2. Presumption. All records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying. Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt.

    There are exemptions for drafts and a few others that might apply, but unless that “clear and convincing evidence” was provided, the city appears to be in violation of the FOIA.

  5. - Ahoy - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 9:53 am:

    Voted yes, I think FOIA request are a huge budget and administrative strain on local governments. The law needs to be revamped.

  6. - downstate hack - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:00 am:

    I voted yes, because this request was too broad and without clear reason or intent.

  7. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:10 am:

    Whose government is it, anyway? Does it belong to Rahm Emanuel or the citizens? Aren’t we just asking for copies of our own documents? Emails?

    I realize that some communications must be kept secret - time of war and all that. Does Rahm beieve he is at war with the citizens of Chicago?

  8. - MrJM - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:10 am:

    Was Mayor Emanuel right to reject this FOIA request?

    No. If Emanuel’s rationale is permitted to stand, any public official with half a brain cell will litter all future emails with “opinions or deliberations” in order to place them outside the scope of FOIA.

    – MrJM

  9. - amalia - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:11 am:

    pathetic way of taking a stand on information. give it up!

  10. - yinn - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:20 am:

    hack, you don’t have to have any reason or “intent” to look at public records. You only have to make it clear whether it’s a commercial request or not.

    Ahoy, put the info online systematically and you won’t have to deal with requests. Problem solved.

  11. - Anonymouse - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:31 am:

    Aldyth- Sort of transparent is called “translucent.”

  12. - Gilkey - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:33 am:

    Meh…I was satisfied with his proclamations.

    I know it is difficult to run the city, so I voted yes.

  13. - Bill - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 10:50 am:

    Everybody knows that Rahm is above the law…election law, labor law, FOIA law, etc..He can just observe or break any laws he wants because he’s RAHM. Just ask him. I voted no…not that it matters.

  14. - Aristotle - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:01 am:

    New Age - The risk you run when you conduct meetings via email.

  15. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:03 am:

    Of course the information should be released. “Deliberative materials” seems too vague a term.

    Looks like we see a developing pattern with the new mayor.

    Disturbing? Time will tell.

  16. - Ray del Camino - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:05 am:

    Yes. What Hack said. The Tribune was fishing. Let them ask for something specific. They were interested in the “decision process”? Amateurs.

  17. - Knome Sane - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:12 am:

    You can’t say your administration is transparent and then smear the lens with Vaseline.

  18. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:19 am:

    I voted no. This was a legitimate inquiry into a very relevant subject matter. The denial is highly reminiscent of Mayor Daley’s FOIA denials on the parking meter fiasco.

    Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

  19. - walkinfool - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:28 am:

    I reluctantly voted yes, even though I think Rahm is overstating his position in this case. I support FOIA goals and most current practices.

    There has to be some reasonable exemption for deliberative records, in order for the government to function and solve problems. Many ideas initially discussed in advance of a decision have little or nothing to do with the outcome, and would be misleading to anyone who is primarily interested in the decision or policy. The press is in the business of informing the public, rather than misleading them. If public servants cannot toss around ideas without each one becoming a press/political issue, then no one will discuss anything out of the box at all, before coming up with solutions.

    We do want our government to work, don’t we? Let’s use the FOIA tool in a focused and deliberative way.

  20. - anon sequitor - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:32 am:

    I am in the minority and voted in favor of Rahm’s actions but only reluctantly.

    How can officials reach a legitimate decision if they don’t have debate and input from different points of view? Unfortunately, drawing the line between what is public record or private deliberation, is a very fuzzy line.

    Plus, in our new “gotcha” world of politics, anything you do (or anyone you talk to) can be twisted into something nefarious.

    The groups who complain about undue influence, are usually the groups who lost. To them, special interests are the opposing groups who won. Let’s not forget that even do-gooders contribute to political campaigns. Are they buying a vote, or just supporting someone whose views they agree with?

  21. - King Louis XVI - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:41 am:

    Emanuel is just like Quinn: just another transparency phony.

  22. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:45 am:

    =Ahoy, put the info online systematically and you won’t have to deal with requests. Problem solved.=


  23. - Ahoy - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:46 am:


    –Ahoy, put the info online systematically and you won’t have to deal with requests. Problem solved.–

    So who’s going to go through all public (and now private) emails to delete private information and put them on line? Furthermore, who’s going to pay the people that you will need to do that?

    That seems ridiculous. I agree with putting reports and other information online, but in the context of this story, it’s a horrible idea.

  24. - Cincinnatus - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 11:46 am:

    Isn’t the real question why Rahm is not releasing the data?

  25. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:11 pm:

    I voted yes and this is why.

    Making of the sausage is ugly and sometimes icky. Policy (and a budget is policy and how mony is raised and spent to porpel that policy) is sometimes about half-baked ideas, with a dash of rational thought, and a pinch of compromise. If we see all the private “give and take” and private thoughts, why would any policy maker, alderman, or adviser want to give anything to the mayor that can be drudged up in an overreaching FOI at any timme. All, the word “all” makes me vote “yes”, but if there are drafts, without “red marks”, “notes/memos”, or “scribble notes”, I can be for that.

  26. - JakeCP - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:26 pm:

    He shouldn’t withhold any information. We pay his salary.

  27. - Left Leaner - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:45 pm:

    Voted no. You talked the talk, now walk it. Lame reasoning. Although agree that FOIA requests can be a hard burden to government and the law needs revised, largely to provide funding to improve the efficiency of the FOIA request process.

  28. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:53 pm:

    ==But the Emanuel administration refused to produce them on the grounds that it would be too much trouble to remove any opinions or deliberations that they say they are allowed to withhold from the public under state law.==

    Doesn’t the mayor employ a legal team at taxpayer expense just for these purposes?

    Any politician who claims he’ll be for more transparency once elected is lying, the only transparency going on here.

  29. - Justice - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:53 pm:

    He should honor the requests, completely.

    In the future require that all business transactions, correspondence or phone calls be done on city owned equipment…no exceptions.

    Any good IT person can track his texts and tweets, present and past. Closed meetings (ignoring the open meetings act) might be a bit more difficult, but likely some in those meetings are wearing wires anyway.

  30. - Objective Dem - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 12:55 pm:

    My understanding is “draft” materials are not subject to FOIA so technically he was right. Providing them to the papers would set a precedent and the papers will keep requesting deliberative materials. This will be time-consuming and ultimately for what purpose? The papers will looking for something they can take out of context and play up in order to sell papers.

  31. - In 630 - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 1:16 pm:

    Seems like this stuff probably fits within the draft/deliberation exception. That exception exists for a reason- staff and officials need to be able to consider and explore things in an unfettered way. Start making everything public and you get every non-starter bad idea that ever got explored trumpted by someone and your administrators get even less creative in their approaches to issues than they already are.

  32. - Carl Nyberg - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 1:34 pm:

    Does the Illinois FOIA law have a “too much trouble” exception?

    This seems to be a willful violation of the law that should be a crime.

    It’s one thing to stretch an exception. But to create an exception of “too much trouble” is absurd. Guess what? It’s always “too much trouble” to comply with FOIA laws when the information reflects badly on the officials in questions.

  33. - Hi - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 2:03 pm:

    This is the guy who came in with his transparency pledge just like Rod came in as a reformer.

  34. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 2:38 pm:

    If it’s public business on the taxpayers dime; it’s public info. No different than the ‘personal cell phone’ stuff. Public business is the public’s business.

  35. - TwoFeetThick - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 3:15 pm:

    I voted yes. While I’m all for transparency, it is obvious from the posters on FOIA-related threads here that those commenters who do not/have never worked in government and FOIA have no clue how difficult it can be to comply with some FOIA requests. This stuff doesn’t just magically appear in a nicely wrapped bundle, ready to be sent off to whoever wants it. It has to be located, perhaps redacted (you wouldn’t want YOUR social security or account numbers released to someone, would you?), documented, etc. It takes time and manpower and, therefore, money, to do. The law is terribly written, contradicts itself and makes an assumption that if someone is asking an agency for something, that agency actually HAS the item being sought (which is often not the case - does that mean the agency is denying the request because they don’t have the item and, therefore, can’t comply? Beats me. The law is silent on what to do when that happens.).

    Requestors often have no idea what they specifically want, but are just going fishing, or they don’t know what the item they want is called, so the person attempting to comply must surmise what they want. Or they’re prisoners and just looking to be a pain in someone’s butt because it’s one of the few things they can do.

    Of course, any attempt by the GA to fix these problems would be blasted by the media as shutting down government openness, so it’s easier and politically safer to just leave it the mess that it is.

  36. - Lefty Lefty - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 3:21 pm:

    Blanket denial of FOIA requests is clearly against the law. “We’re too busy” is not an allowable excuse. More BS from a BSer.

  37. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 3:56 pm:

    I voted yes. I’m not sure what is even being requested. They raised the rates. Period. End of story.

  38. - mokenavince - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 4:36 pm:

    I voted yes because it all comes out in the wash.

  39. - Patrick McDonough - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 5:13 pm:

    I have fought with Gary Litherland (Chicago Department of Water Management) to release information for years. Tom Laporte, his boss, does not even return calls. Every request requires a extra time extension which is used to kill stories. In fact, complaints from myself and other have been made to the Office of the Inspector General, nothing is done. Oh well.

  40. - Fed up - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 6:23 pm:

    No but nothing will happen to emperor Rahm he will be allowed to do as he pleases.

  41. - PublicServant - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 7:24 pm:

    Rahm’s honeymoon is over. Once those fees on the middle class start impacting citizens, he’s toast. Most of those citiizens aren’t in unions, so, if there’s no bad guy for Rahm to rescue us from, then he becomes the bad guy. As I said, honeymoon over. Move over Kim Kardashian.

  42. - I have issues - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 7:42 pm:

    Well, Patrick, i feel for you, but the City I.G. has always been a joke. Was in for an interview about something years ago, stupid investigation, asked me a bunch of stuff that had no relevance on the whole thing.

    I voted no, even though I do believe the FOIA has gone too far. Voted no mainly because since Rahm made this such a big issue, well, time to follow up Mayor!

    When you make “transperancy” an issue, they will always want more. Rahm will be only as transperant as he wants to be!

  43. - Justin Boland - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 8:04 pm:

    Hopefully it’s obvious by now that “transparency” is just more empty rhetoric. Lies, lies and lies. Then, more lies.

  44. - DuPage Dave - Wednesday, Nov 30, 11 @ 8:15 pm:

    Emmanuel is beginning to look like Blagojevich here. Blago promised reform, but it was only a promise without reform. Rahm is promising transparency, and it appears also to be only a promise.

    The only thing here that’s transparent is his attempt at hiding his records.

    New Rahm theme song = “I’m Looking Through You”??

  45. - Dirty Red - Tuesday, Dec 6, 11 @ 10:23 am:

    Completely agree with Anon @9:52. It saddens me that so many City Clerks, and now City Attorneys, look at public records in another light.

    Ahoy, get over it. FOIA was just overhauled in a big way that gives local governments more time and more reasons to say, “No,” plus charge people who request more often.

    If a local government is really THAT swamped with FOIA requests, then my first thought is that they aren’t providing people with as much information as they could at the local library, City Clerk’s office, or Web site. If you take the time to set-up an IT infrastructure so that some government documents are automatically made available, I’d be willing to bet you’d see fewer FOIA requests.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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