Greising: Without FOIA Powers, Facts Around Little Village Smokestack Debacle Will Remain in a Cloud

The Crawford dust cloud is no less disastrous just because COVID-19 is upon us. And the people in Little Village, and across the city, have an urgent right to know who protected them, who did not and whom to hold accountable for what went wrong.

The Crawford Coal Plant (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot is supporting a group of mostly small-town mayors in an effort to suspend their duty to respond to public records requests until Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order lifts.

The argument that they don’t have the resources to address records requests during the COVID-19 crisis was always unsteady. Then it visibly crashed to the ground Saturday when the Crawford Coal Plant smokestack fell.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­The botched demolition created a cloud of industrial detritus that smothered the Little Village neighborhood. This dangerous incident illustrated the public’s vitally important right to know, our need to know, in a timely manner about the workings and failings of government.

It’s understandable that Lightfoot and other mayors find the coronavirus all-consuming. But the Crawford case is one piece of evidence that bad things keep happening, just as always. Violent crime in Chicago’s streets, the corruption of public officials and waste and mismanagement in public programs: We need answers about those problems too.

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