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In Illinois, it's none of your business

In recent days, the Rock Falls High School board interviewed six candidates for superintendent.

If you're curious about who they are, don't hold your breath. In Illinois, government agencies don't have to release the names, even those of finalists.

Last year, I asked for the names of the finalists for city administrator in Morrison. The city didn't want to give that information. The state attorney general said such a release would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

Of course, nothing in the state Freedom of Information Act specifically bars a government entity from releasing finalists' names. But when agencies are allowed to keep something secret, they typically do.

In Wisconsin, the attorney general interprets the law as requiring the release of finalists' names. Some entities, though, fight requests for such information. In 2009, the Milwaukee Public Schools refused to release some of the names of superintendent finalists. After the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel filed a lawsuit over the issue, the district gave in.

The usual argument against releasing names is that candidates don't want their current employers to know they're interested in other jobs. Disclosure, some reason, would keep good candidates from applying.

On the flip side, the public has an interest in holding government agencies accountable. For a school board, hiring a superintendent is among the biggest decisions. Shouldn't the community get the chance to weigh in? Shouldn't taxpayers be able to compare the winning candidate with the others?

Some universities and colleges have their presidential finalists undergo public interviews. In another state, I covered a city of 14,000, where the finalists for city manager took part in a meet-and-greet with the public.

In Illinois, unfortunately, we're not allowed to know the names of the other finalists. It's none of our business, even though we end up paying the bills.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley.com or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.

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