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Out Here: In Illinois, it’s none of your business

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST

In recent days, the Rock Falls High School board interviewed six candidates for superintendent, with the board expected to make a selection Wednesday.

If you’re curious about who the candidates 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.

‘The criminal who did it’?

Last month, we reported that former Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon’s office apparently drafted a number of documents to support his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

In Illinois, it’s against the law to use government resources for political campaigns. Violations are considered misdemeanors.

Will the authorities charge Dixon? New State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said she knows of no agency investigating.

Is it even important enough? The 2008 version of Henry Dixon may advise that it is.

That year, the Dixon Police Department website contained a link to the campaign website of then-Lee County State’s Attorney Paul Whitcombe, who was seeking re-election.

The city investigated, finding that someone in the department had set up the link “working under the impression that they did not know it was impermissible.” The city removed the link.

How did city officials find out about the link?

From none other than Henry Dixon, Whitcombe’s opponent.

After the city finished its investigation, Dixon wasn’t satisfied.

“It’s the bailiwick of the city. I brought my objections to them and showed it was a criminal offense. They opted not to do anything,” Dixon said at the time. “I was hoping Paul Whitcombe would prosecute the criminal who did it.”

Unlike in 2008, Dixon is not pushing for a prosecution this time. And he’s certainly not talking about “the criminal who did it.”

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

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