Learn More Open the Books

Eye on state keeps it in check, Decatur Herald & Review Editorial

Mention the words “open government” or “transparency” and the eyes of a lot of readers glaze over.

But the pension abuses detailed in today’s editorial illustrate how important open and transparent government should be to taxpayers. The behavior that allows officials of unions and other organizations to receive public pensions based on private tenure and pay is a clear example of what happens when it’s difficult to access information.

Much of the information that led to the uncovering of these officials was contained at a new website: www.openthebooks.com. It is the creation of a group called For the Good of Illinois, headed by former gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski. The group filed more than 10,000 Freedom of Information Act requests to amass the database that lists the salary or retirement income of nearly every public employee in Illinois.

The idea, Andrzejewski said in an interview with the Herald & Review editorial board, is a simple one. If government is transparent, corruption and shenanigans such as the pension deals is less likely to happen. He believes in this age, there is no good reason public bodies can’t post records online immediately. His motto is “every dime, online, in real time.” He believes citizens “shouldn’t have to ask” for information.

Andrzejewski is best known as a politician. But in this case, politics is not the issue. What’s fair and right for the taxpayers is what’s important. As we all know, Illinois is famous for corruption in some local governments and at the state level. It’s likely that in the near future, the past two governors will be in federal prison for crimes they committed while in office. Whether more transparency would have stopped former governors George Ryan or Rod Blagojevich is impossible to know. But it seems clear that if politicians knew the public is watching, they would be less likely to broker such deals as the ones that allowed union and other officials to receive public pensions.

Imagine the scrutiny that immediate reporting of all campaign contributions would receive, as opposed to the current system of periodic reports that often aren’t revealed until after the election is over. Imagine what would happen at any level of government if every bill and every email between public officials was instantly available to the public. Despite recent improvements, the public record laws in Illinois are still woefully inadequate, and most of those laws don’t apply to the General Assembly.

Many of our state’s leaders are hiding their deeds behind a veil of secrecy.

Journalists are naturally in favor of open records. For one, it makes the journalist’s job easier, and it’s always better to have an actual record as opposed to what someone believes may have happened. Journalists also see government at a closer level than most citizens, and they are quicker to understand what can happen outside of public scrutiny.

But the biggest advocates for an open and transparent government should be the citizens. The citizens are the ones paying the bills and electing the politicians. The citizens are supposed to be “in charge.” Illinois politicians will often speak favorably of open government, but the results are always less than promised. It’s clear our political leaders prefer less, not more, scrutiny.

Citizens should demand a more open and transparent government. It’s a way to end the corruption and deal-making that has plagued this state for decades.

By GARY SAWYER Herald-Review.com |

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