Bruno Behrend isn’t the most popular man among Illinois government types.
But he’s probably one of the best-known.
He is a gadfly, a persistent irritant to those who would prefer how government works — from the smallest of school boards to the largest of state offices — be kept secret.
As executive director of For the Good of Illinois, a scrappy little group started by former gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski, his views run counter.
Instead, For the Good of Illinois believes in transparency and openness. It believes the truckloads of money being pumped into keeping the wheels of government moving in Illinois are from the people, so the people should know where those truckloads go.
Follow the money, as the story goes.
In 2011, Andrzejewski and his group fired the first salvo by making details about public pensions well, public.
The group was one of the first to identify the massive amount of money that would be needed to fund Illinois pensions in the future and how out of whack some of those payments seemed — such as former Parkland College President Zelema Harris’ $17,000-plus a month.
Openthebooks.com was born, filled with details that officials decried as voyeuristic but the public saw as essential to keeping government in check.
It took more than $100,000 and enough paperwork to fill a few parks. There were people happy to follow the law and provide information; there were others vowing to sue.
Undeterred, they continued to follow the money.
Two weeks ago, Openthebooks.com unveiled its newest mission: To spotlight spending by school boards across the state. Millions and millions of vendors and the amount spent with each are just waiting to be pored over and brought into the light.
Not to lose steam, this week the site started loading in statistics to show the effect of spending bloat that has gone from Springfield to the local level. The information, broken down by cities and counties over the past 10 years, shows the spend and spend mentality has filtered down from the state.
Even for the most data-oriented people, what is available here is overwhelming.
The lesson is clear, though: Illinois has created its own problems and seems to show little interest in fixing them, instead cutting services to residents and increasing already burdensome property taxes.
For the Good of Illinois doesn’t purport to have the answers, but it clearly believes people can come up with their own when given the right tools.
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