The Better Government Association is joining several independent aldermen in asking the City Council to demand more transparency and accountability from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Infrastructure Trust, which is expected to be approved in a special session this morning.
The BGA is asking aldermen to postpone the Trust’s passage by voting no, thus allowing more review of the proposal. (The aldermen tried to delay the Trust’s passage for a month by refusing to bring it up for a vote at last Wednesday’s meeting. Emanuel steamrolled them by calling today’s meeting.)
The BGA is objecting to the fact that the public will not have the same right to examine the Infrastructure Trust’s proceeding as it does the City Council’s, even though the Trust could be spending billions of dollars in tax money:
The Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act do not apply to the Infrastructure Trust, a non-profit agency.
The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) are state statutes that apply only to public bodies. The Illinois Attorney General has jurisdiction over public bodies that fail to comply with the requirements of FOIA and OMA, and a special office (the Public Access Counselor) to assist citizens who are unable to obtain documents via FOIA.
Unlike public bodies, non-profits like the Trust are not subject to Illinois FOIA or OMA. A city ordinance cannot unilaterally extend the authority of the Illinois Attorney General over a non-profit. That means that if the Trust fails to comply with FOIA or OMA, the only recourse is litigation in the courts. Citizens and members of the press submitting FOIA requests to the Trust will not have the protections and assistance offered by the Public Access Counselor, who ensures that public entities comply with FOIA.
The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Infrastructure Trust.
The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Trust because the Trust is a separate entity from the city. To the extent that the Trust enters agreements with the City, the IG could potentially examine those specific agreements. However, the IG’s authority does not extend to deals with related agencies, some of which do not have their own Inspector General. As you know, related city agencies include the Chicago Public Schools, the Housing Authority and the Park District, taxpayer-supported agencies that have great impact on residents’ lives.
Don't expect any of these suggestions to be adopted. If Chicagoans actually wanted better government, we'd vote for it, and there would be no need for a Better Government Association.
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