Sunshine Week. In 1913, three years before he became a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Louis Brandeis uttered four immortal words that have been emblazoned for nearly a century atop the figurative pedestal of transparency and clean government that groups like the BGA look up to: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Brandeis’s words and their implication are so important to the cause of better government that reformers have actually created “Sunshine Week” March 13-19, to celebrate and shine a bright light on the issue of transparency. If you want a primer on what “Sunshine Week” means and why it’s so important, all the details are at www.sunshineweek.org.
- Sunshine scorecard. The Tribune marked “Sunshine Week” with a Saturday story from the Associated Press that looks at the ups and downs of transparency efforts around the country. The Washington Post reports that only half of the federal agencies have complied with President Obama’s request for more transparency by complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.
- Sunshine setback. Also in the Trib on Saturday, a report that IL attorney general Lisa Madigan’s office has determined the Oak Park village board violated the Open Meetings Act last Fall by discussing a condominium development project behind closed doors. The complaint that led to the finding was filed by Oak Park citizen David Barsotti, who automatically becomes an honorary BGA Watchdog.
- Sunshine suggestion. Phil Kadner looked at “Sunshine Week” on Sunday with a SouthtownStar column that says regular citizens are “the power source for that sunlight.” But Kadner laments the amount of paperwork regular citizens have to cope with to file Freedom of Information Act requests, and he says public buildings like libraries and municipal centers should be equipped with computers so citizens have easier access to government information. BGA agrees.
- Sunshine siege. Daily Herald reports on Sunday that IL lawmakers are considering limits on the number of FOIA’s regular citizens can file because local governments are complaining of overload. Transparency activist and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski says one solution is to put more government information on-line so people don’t have to file FOIA’s to get it. BGA agrees with this one too.
I’m also watching a few non-sunshine stories:
- Breakfast blues. Chicago News Co-op columnist Jim Warren writes in Sunday’s New York Times about a Chicago Board of Education decision to make breakfast mandatory in every grade school classroom. Warren worries that full stomachs may be accompanied by empty heads because the mandate takes more instructional time away from a school system that already has the shortest school day, and year, of any big city in America.
- Rahm’s reform? Sunday Sun-Times reports that mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is pledging to reform the city’s controversial and problem-plagued Tax Increment Financing (TIF) program so the money goes to blighted areas, as originally intended. “It should not be used for high-rents areas,” Emanuel tells the newspaper.
- Pension plague. Sunday editorial in the Tribune looks at IL’s growing pension debt and its destructive impact on other budget priorities. The editorial also supports a bill in Congress that would force states to be more transparent about their pension data.
- Amazon angst. AP reports that Amazon is cutting its ties to IL companies in response to a new bill requiring on-line customers to pay state sales tax on their purchases. Other companies are reportedly following Amazon’s exit from IL.