BGA sues Cook County government for refusing to divulge applicants to public boards and commissions.
Mary Frances O’Connor (312) 821-9026
Robert Herguth (312) 821-9030
CHICAGO—When it comes to government transparency, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has talked the talk, but she hasn’t always walked the walk.
In January, Preckwinkle’s office denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Better Government Association to turn over the names and addresses of people who’ve sought her appointment to dozens of Cook County boards and commissions.
On March 26, 2013, the BGA sued Cook County government in Circuit Court to force Preckwinkle’s office to reveal the information.
"It’s clear this information doesn’t belong to the County Board president – it belongs to the public, and she should turn it over," said BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw. "Toni Preckwinkle portrays herself as a reformer, and she’s promised to provide an open and transparent county government. But in this case she’s fallen way short of her own self-proclaimed standard."
The BGA filed its FOIA on Dec. 13. After seeking an extension a week later, Preckwinkle’s office denied the request on Jan. 2, claiming that disclosure of the applicants’ names and addresses "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and that their privacy outweighs the public’s right to have the information. The office did not respond to calls and emails seeking clarification.
As board president, Preckwinkle makes appointments to more than 50 boards and commissions – everything from Metra to sanitary and mosquito abatement districts. Some of those appointments come with salaries and benefits, and most if not all of them involve stewarding public policy and/or tax dollars.
Since taking office in December 2010, Preckwinkle has made about 140 such appointments. And, in a 44-page report on her first year in office, Preckwinkle cited the creation of a website to solicit applicants for boards and commissions as an effort to make the process transparent.
Board and commission appointments have proven to be worthy of scrutiny because of their sometimes political –and secretive – nature. The BGA wants the names of the applicants to determine if Preckwinkle has lived up to her reform pledge.
In an effort to obtain vital documents in the public interest, the BGA has sued several government agencies in the past few years, including the Chicago Police Department, the suburban bus agency Pace, the DuPage County sheriff and the Village of Maywood. For more information visit the BGA’s legal action webpage.
This most recent lawsuit, against Cook County, was filed pro bono by Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which has generously assisted the BGA with a number of legal matters over the years in pursuit of better government.
READ: Better Government Association v Cook County
The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the electorate to achieve authentic and responsible reform.