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Thursday, May 16, 2013 02:32 pm

Shredgate: City's actions, or lack thereof, stink

Don’t watch what we do, listen to what we say.

That’s what politicians who behave badly would have the public do when the going gets weird. And what the city of Springfield is doing as Shredgate unfolds does a disservice to the word “weird.”

What started all this was pretty simple.

The city got tired of requests for police internal affairs files from folks like Calvin “I’m Not Springfield Leaks” Christian, so the cops shredded files, like nervous diplomats in an embassy about to be overrun by militants. They did it even though some of those files were the subject of pending requests made under the state Freedom of Information Act. They did it despite a record retention schedule created pursuant to state law requires that such records be kept for at least five years. And they knew about the law, having gone through proper procedures last fall and obtained permission from the local records commission, which must approve the destruction of public records, to destroy the files once they are five years old.

Now the cops and their elected enablers are saying trust us. The police chief says that anyone who suspects something nefarious is a conspiracy theorist. Really – he said that in public.

I’m not sure what to call the chief, but “scofflaw” and “union lackey” come to mind before “law enforcement officer.”

Three members of the city council – Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson, Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner and Ward 4 Ald. Frank Lesko -- who voted against an emergency measure last week to stop the shredding are, apparently, as dumb as the chief and his boss Mayor Mike Houston would hope, or, perhaps, they also are union lackeys or accomplices after the fact.

“The ten of us need to be in unison and do something about this,” Simpson decreed on April 30 during one of the council’s going-through-the-motions shindigs when a lot gets said but not much gets done. Then, after saying the council needed to do something about this scandalous shredding – shredding that has prompted a lawsuit against the city, shredding that has prompted calls for a criminal investigation – Simpson a week later voted against a measure to stop the shredding and get the city back on the right side of the law.

The resolution that Simpson, Turner and Lesko opposed was a watered-down version of a measure to ban any shredding without council approval, at least for the time being. The milquetoasts who pass for aldermen and call for legal opinions before going to the bathroom worried about what unions might do, and so the resolution was amended to affect only the police department. Not fair, naysayers opined.

“I really don’t think we should pass a resolution that would just affect one city entity,” Turner said. “I think we’re really setting ourselves up for a bad precedent. I think we should all step back for a minute and take a breath.”

At least she didn’t call for a committee to study the matter and issue a report.

Finally, Ward 5 Ald. Sam Cahnman put forth a truly startling proposal to ban any shredding of public records without approval from the local records commission created under the state law that gives the commission the power to decide when records should be destroyed.

“That’s just following Illinois law,” Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards observed.

“Exactly,” noted Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen.

And the measure calling on the city to obey state law then failed, much to the surprise of the mayor, who initially said that it had passed and had to be reminded that it takes eight votes to approve an emergency resolution. The mayor’s confusion is understandable. Rules and laws and resolutions and ordinances and lawsuits and collective bargaining agreements – things can get mighty complicated, especially when city fathers check common sense at the door.

What makes this even weirder is that the city has steadfastly refused to release internal affairs files requested under the state Freedom of Information Act – it’s not as if the FOIA floodgates have ever been open when it comes to naughty cops. That’s why Christian has twice sued the city for refusing to release police disciplinary records. He has won once, the second lawsuit is now before Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John “Snail’s Pace” Schmidt, who heard arguments more than a year ago and still hasn’t decided squat. Some aldermen want attorney general Lisa “Madame Sunshine” Madigan to conduct a criminal investigation to determine whether the city broke state law by shredding documents, but good luck with that. Madigan, who doesn’t need a request from aldermen or anyone else to enforce the law, has already gotten a tepid request for a probe from the mayor. Shredgate has been in the headlines for weeks. And the attorney general has shown zero interest.

No wonder, then, that Christian is back in court, asking a judge to do the jobs of elected officials, asking for records and $365,000 and attorneys’ fees.

After rejecting the resolution that would have required the city to obey the law, the council last week went behind closed doors to mull Christian’s lawsuit and twiddle thumbs. If you listened carefully outside the door of the executive session, you could almost hear the calliope music and roar of greasepaint.

Sue, baby, sue. And end the clown show.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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