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Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015 12:53 am

Governor Sunshine

Rauner demands FOIA to see contract


Want a simple answer to a simple question? File a Freedom of Information Act request.

That was the word from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s staff when Illinois Times today asked for a copy of the contract between the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and University of Illinois Springfield that allowed for employees of the Papers of Abraham Lincoln Project to work at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where the project is headquartered.

The IHPA hasn’t renewed the contract with UIS. An IHPA spokesman on Friday said that the contract wasn’t renewed due to the lack of a state budget. However, a substantial portion of the project’s budget comes from UIS as well as federal and private grants, and most of the project’s staff are university employees. Derek Schnapp, UIS spokesman, said that university employees assigned to the Lincoln papers project are still on the job.

“They’re at work,” Schnapp said.

Just how many state general fund dollars might be at stake isn’t clear, which is why Illinois Times wanted a copy of the intergovernmental agreement between IHPA and UIS that, presumably, would help clarify the fiscal picture. When we first asked for the contract this morning, Katherine Parker, the ALPLM’s director of marketing and guest services, was filling in for Chris Wills, the IHPA’s spokesman who was out of the office.

Shoot me an email, saying what you want, Parker said. We did. And we heard back from Lyndsey Walters, deputy press secretary in the governor’s office, who told us to submit a FOIA request for the contract to the IHPA’s designated FOIA officer, who is also the agency’s lawyer.

A written request submitted to any employee of an agency qualifies as a request under the state Freedom of Information Act, so our first email to Parker is, in fact, a FOIA request. Walters might want to either consult a lawyer or take a bit of time to brush up on the basics of public-records law. In the alternative, she might simply turn over the contract, given what her boss said on the campaign trail last year.

“I want to make Illinois government the most efficient, transparent (state government) in America,” Rauner the candidate said on the stump.

Rauner the governor has said much the same thing.

“We’ve got to change that culture and be more responsive,” Rauner told the Associated Press in March when asked about a massive backlog in handling appeals of FOIA denials at the attorney general’s office, which acts a referee when government balks at releasing records. “I look forward to investigating that and seeing what I can do to help fix that.”

He could help fix things by not requiring people to go through a process that requires public employees to write formal letters of response that accompany responses to FOIA requests, which consumes time and money. He could help fix things by setting an example of how to be transparent in the most efficient way possible. Instead, he does stuff like this that begs the question: What, really, is Rauner turning around in state government?

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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