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Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 12:10 am

Rauner releases calendar

Governor apparently lacks email, cellphone

 

Last fall, I got a tip.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, my tipster said, doesn’t appear to have a state email account.

The issue was germane. Besides Hillary Clinton’s infamous failure to do business on a State Department email account and her ensuing apology, Rauner has said that state employees shouldn’t conduct public business on private email accounts.

“We have a very firm policy,” the governor said last August, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. “We say: no personal emails if you’re serving in the administration. Don’t use personal email for any government business whatsoever.”

And so I asked the governor’s office for a copy of any document containing Rauner’s email address.

Under the state Freedom of Information Act, government bodies have five business days to respond to requests for public records. After five days, the governor’s office told me that it needed a five-day extension to respond to my request. Fine – state law allows public officials to extend the deadline and lists five reasons why a response can legitimately be delayed. Generally speaking, the reasons are supposed to kick in for less-than-routine requests that require public bodies to assemble large numbers of documents or perform substantial redactions or have the response reviewed by experts (i.e. lawyers) to ensure that everything is proper. So I asked the governor’s office which of the five reasons applied here.

“The requested records have not been located in the course of routine search and additional efforts and additional efforts are being made to locate them,” Christina McClernon, lawyer in the governor’s office, answered back via email, quoting directly from statute.

The hunt proved unsuccessful.

“The governor’s office conducted a search and found no documents responsive to your request,” McClernon wrote at the end of the deadline extension.

I didn’t give up trying to figure out how Rauner is doing business as the CEO of the fifth-largest state in the nation. Perhaps, I thought, he’s a telephone guy. So I asked for the most recent bill for Rauner’s cellphone. McClernon’s response was the same: We need an extension because we can’t find it, followed by, we have no responsive documents. I then emailed the governor’s press office, asking whether Rauner uses email or a cellphone to communicate with anyone in his role as governor. If not, I asked, how does he communicate? If he doesn’t use a cellphone or email, does this present any challenges in running the state?

This was more than a month ago. I haven’t heard back. I have, however, heard from whomever handles correspondence for the governor’s wife. Diana Rauner has a state email account, which goes through the governor’s office – that’s the response I got when I emailed diana.rauner@illinois.gov asking whether the first lady has an email account. When I sent an email to bruce.rauner@illinois.gov, it bounced back as undeliverable.

This might all be fiddlesticks save for a few things, one being Rauner’s statement that no one in his administration is supposed to use private email for public business. There is also a statement that Rauner made on the 2014 campaign trail, one that cannot be repeated often enough as he begins his second year as governor.

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

Which brings us to Rauner’s appointment calendar, which the governor released after being sued by yours truly. I asked for the calendar last May. The governor says it’s my fault that it took him so long to comply with the state Freedom of Information Act.

I’m not the only one who asked for the calendar. Writers for the Associated Press and Chicago Reader also were refused. The attorney general’s office three times told the governor that his calendar is a public record. I sued after the attorney general sided with me.

The governor’s office, after being sued, could have put a quick end to the matter by turning over the calendar, which it should have done in the first place. Instead, the governor aggressively litigated the case, filing an answer to the lawsuit, plus a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, plus a lawsuit of its own that dragged the Chicago Reader into the case. Then, quicker than you can say “Happy New Year,” the governor on Jan. 8 released his calendar.

I was too quick to go to court, according to a letter I received from Don Tracy, the Springfield attorney retained to fight the lawsuit. According to Tracy, the governor’s staff hadn’t decided whether to follow the attorney general’s advice before I sued, and it took time for the governor to determine whether my lawsuit aimed at prying loose the calendar somehow “preempted” the attorney general’s opinion that the calendar should never have been withheld.

“It is unfortunate that due to Mr. Rushton’s rush to court, the release of the calendar to him and other media outlets has been delayed,” Tracy wrote in a letter to me that accompanied a copy of the calendar I had requested last May.

It is the sort of logic that only a lawyer could love. Lawyers also like getting paid, and so the lawsuit lives on, with the governor’s office saying that it released the calendar in response to the attorney general’s opinion in September, not my lawsuit filed the day after the attorney general sided with me. A judge will decide whether the governor must pay my lawyer and, perhaps, a fine for being neither as transparent as the law requires nor as transparent as Rauner promised to be before taking office.

In the meantime, the governor, when asked for information, would do well to rely on his campaign promise instead of lawyers hired to hair-split statutes. But, without an email account or cellphone, it’s not surprising that Rauner would be out of touch with the demands of his office.  

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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