Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UPDATED: District 181 Resistant to Complying with Settled Illinois Law Regarding Public Records -- One Parent's Perspective

As Concerned Parents, we appreciate the thoughtful comment left today by Parent Jeffrey Mayer on the online Hinsdale Doings in response to their article on the desire by Board President Turek and Board Member Michael Nelson for reform of the Freedom of Information Act in order to make it more restrictive due to their perception that it allows for the public to use it as a form of "bullying."

Mr. Mayer also left a more personal comment on our blog post dated October 29 on the Quick Recap of Monday's meeting.

We believe his comments are of sufficient importance to publish them below as a post.  Thank you Mr. Mayer for your insightful commentary.

Mr. Mayer's comment originally posted on the online Hinsdale Doings:

Jeffrey Mayer3 hours ago
I appreciate the article but the headline has it all wrong. The right headline is "District 181 resistant to complying with settled Illinois law regarding public records." The article does not challenge the questionable accounting of Mr. Turek and whether the cost reflects the time spent refusing to produce responsive records as opposed to the simple task of collecting public records and emailing them off. The balance of the article merely provides a forum for a political stunt designed to discourage questions about the board's activities.

To begin with, Mr. Turek's complaints regarding FOIA are well outside the political mainstream and represent, in my view, the type of secretive Illinois political culture that has so severely damaged our state. In response to ongoing corruption and waste in our great state, Illinois actually recently strengthened its FOIA laws and similar laws govern all fifty states and the federal government. It is thus the bi-partisan consensus of the entire nation, except for a few cranky out of the mainstream folks like Turek and Nelson, that FOIA laws are a social good and that whatever cost comes with those laws, is a small price to pay for preserving our way of life from secretive government officials. It is also a small price to pay for the huge savings that come from making sure that our tax money is well spent. Does anyone doubt that a government agency with limited oversight will be a poor caretaker of our tax money.

For Mr. Nelson to call requests for public information "bullying" is itself the type of over the top rhetoric that is inappropriate for a public servant to utter. In fact, creating a prop of paper that allegedly was difficult to collect, pounding the table, and demanding the repeal of established law all to discourage public inquiry is the actual bullying. Mr. Nelson's and Mr. Turek's bullying may well achieve the desired result. Even if you have the right to view public records, why do it if it results in grown men calling people names in a public proceeding and putting on a show for the secretive administration. It is a publicity stunt as there is exactly zero chance that a serious person would consider watering down the FOIA laws that the entire nation consider an important part of our democracy.

Mr. Nelson and Mr. Turek stand apart from the many dedicated officials in Illinois who now reject our history of secrecy. Hundreds, if not thousands, of municipalities and other government entities in Illinois respond regularly to FOIA's without the necessity of the top officials openly stating that do not want to comply and bullying the people who seek the information. It truly is not a big deal to respond to FOIA requests. The local papers, including the Doings, routinely use FOIA requests to obtain information. The only reason that it is an issue at all is that D 181 does everything it can to refuse to respond to information.

Moreover, as Illinois admittedly grapples with all sorts of government misconduct, ranging from the open illegalities that dominate our headlines to everyday entirely lawful but wasteful use of taxpayer monies, it is disturbing that any elected officials in Illinois want to start a crusade to limit public access to public records. In the state of Rod, and George, and Jesse is that the right trend? Does any remotely thoughtful person believe that Illinois, Illinois of all places, should place government officials and their actions beyond careful scrutiny. Mr. Turek's props and Mr. Nelson's bullying are the latest, in my view, of a long line of Illinois political tactics designed to shield officials from scrutiny.

And that is another point that the article omits. These are not Mr. Turek's or Mr. Nelson's records, these are public records.

No other surrounding municipality or government entity seems to have a problem with the public seeing public records. There is literally no significant cost in most circumstances to comply. The Doings has not run any other articles about public officials who are interested in concealing information from the public. And, in this situation, the records being sought are not obscure records that are of no interest, but instead data and information regarding the recent curriculum changes in the District.

In the end, it is embarrassing for Nelson and Turek, for the District, and for Illinois, that elected officials grandstand about a never to happen crusade about preventing the public from access--all to discourage taxpayers and citizens from exercising their rights. The Doings should dig in and do the right article about their conduct.

Jeff Mayer

Mr. Mayer's Comment on the October 29 Parent Blog Post:

Jeffrey Jay Mayer said...

This is to Christine Ryan. I do appreciate your concern and wish other people would be public. I don't run this blog and have actually publicly posted on Dr. Schuster's blog. You should note that I am the only person in the entire district who has posted anything on her blog. I am happy to be accountable for everything I say.
However,in my view, the board does try to take revenge on critics and so people are afraid. The board's treatment of my family recently proves that.

Aside from posting legitimate questions on Dr. Schuster's blog, I served a simple FOIA request on the district, my wife served other ones, and as a result the leader of the school board Marty Turek engaged in political grandstanding and Mike Nelson actually called the request for public information "bullying". So, in response for lawfully requesting public information, elected officials called me a bully and complained publicly.

I don't care, I am not intimidated by these guys. But, I can certainly see why other people would not want these officials to know them by name.

If you are interested, you can read the Doings article describing the Nelson/Turek conduct this week. It is on line.

My response to the article, which is posted as a comment, is also available. As I noted in my comment, I am embarassed for them but also for the District and the state of Illinois. To be the first public officials in recent memory in Illinois to want less oversight to Illinois government--that is a first that I would not want attached to my name.

Jeff Mayer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said Mr. Mayer!

I would also point out how disgusting it is for a board member who hardly comes to meetings -- Mr. Nelson -- to publicly criticize community members who are simply asserting their right to access public information. He should start doing his elected job and not just bully from the pulpit when he sees fit to show up.

As for Mr. Turek's foot stomping performance and insistence that he plans to rush over to Patti Bellock's office to right his perceived wrong, I am laughing in my boots at his belief that she will seriously consider his ludicrous statements.