Today, Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration appeared before a legislative body investigating the state’s botched response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a state-run veterans’ home in Quincy. Over three years, 13 people died. At a hearing last month, lawmakers asked the administration to turn over more information about the state’s response to the outbreak.
Well, lawmakers will have to wait longer. According to the Associated Press, Rauner’s administration required lawmakers to file public records requests, then denied the requests as “overly broad”:
“Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Nirav Shah…told a joint House-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Wednesday that Sen. Tom Cullerton’s request for communication surrounding the crisis that has led to the deaths of 13 residents and sickened dozens more is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. He used an exemption for “overly broad” requests to deny the request from Cullerton. He invited the Villa Park Democrat and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman to narrow the request.”
Today’s hearing also revealed the workers at the state-run Quincy home only learned about the Legionnaires’ outbreak through media reports. Rauner’s administration already came under fire after it was revealed the state waited 6 days before telling residents and the public about the outbreak.
“Thirteen people died at a veterans’ home and Bruce Rauner’s administration is hampering an investigation into why it happened,” said DGA Illinois Communications Director Sam Salustro. “It took a major investigation to force Rauner to even admit there was a problem at Quincy. Now it appears his administration is more interested in protecting themselves than finding answers as to what happened.”
* More from that AP story…
Illinois Public Health Director Nirav Shah told a joint House-Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that his agency denied Senate committee chairman Tom Cullerton’s demand for communication about the crisis under an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act. […]
“I didn’t realize that as a senator, I had to file a full FOIA request for an agency that the General Assembly is responsible for doing an appropriation on,” Cullerton said.
No public body is obligated to follow FOIA. The preamble to the law states a presumption that all government records are public. The law exists to ensure that taxpayers have recourse to get public records from reticent government bodies.
“We’re asking you to answer a request to fix a problem where not just one person died … 13 people died on your watch and you didn’t fix it,” said Sen. Michael Hastings, a Tinley Park Democrat. “And you want to play hide the ball?”
“My request wasn’t a FOIA request. I set it up as just a follow-up to the answer where (Shah and Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Erica Jeffries) said ‘yes we will provide the information,‘” said Cullerton. “I filed a follow-up, just reminding you and saying ‘could you please provide the information?’”
When questioned by Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, on when public health would release the requested emails, Shah said they would when public officials discuss how to narrow the request with representatives of Cullerton and Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“It seems to me there’s some kind of a cover-up,” said Welch. “We’re in 2018, and there appears to be way too many deaths of veterans. One is too many. And yet it seems to me that you guys are withholding information and avoiding answering questions.”
“I’m going to be very clear for the record and everyone in the gallery, too: Your assumption that there is a cover-up at play is 150 thousand percent unfounded and is wholly rejected,” Shah retorted.
There’s at least one other interesting story from today’s hearing. More later.