May 4, 2009

Limits to transparency in the Land of Lincoln?

Following the corruption trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has ramped up calls for increasing transparency:

Seizing upon the public outcry for change following the scandalous tenures of two successive governors, she is seeking more authority to settle records disputes and penalize public officials who violate the law.

"The important thing is we put an end to what has become a culture of secrecy in this state," Madigan said during a recent Tribune interview. "The opportunity is ripe to do it. We have the evidence, and we have the right environment for it."

But how sincere are her efforts?

During a recent visit to the Tribune to tout her reform agenda, Madigan sided with government lobbyists who support the sweeping exception to public records law allowing officials to keep secret "preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated... ." (Emphasis added)

She also disagreed with calls to open up evaluation records of public employees, claiming bosses would not give fair and accurate assessments if their conclusions would be published.

Colleen M. Murphy of Connecticut's state commission on open records disagreed:

"We have found that when our supervisors know their work product is going to be public, they tend to be even more honest and thorough," she said. "When you know something is going to be public, you tend to do it right."