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Lee County's bizarre journey to openness

The transcripts from Lee County's wind farm hearings are now online. That shouldn't be a big deal, but it is.

For months, the county bizarrely fought against the public's right to have access to that information. All 28 Lee County Board members stayed quiet as this happened.

The transcripts were done by a court reporter hired by Mainstream Renewable Power, the company proposing 53 wind turbines in southwestern Lee County.

The proposed wind farm is controversial. Many neighboring residents don't want it, fearing their property values will decline, among other concerns. They want all the information they can about the project.

Interestingly, the company never had a problem giving the transcripts to the county. Why would it? After all, the Ireland-based company wants the county to approve the turbines. Keeping the transcripts under wraps had the potential of irking the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals, which will make a recommendation to the County Board on the wind farm.

After the hearings started in July, Mainstream would give the transcripts to the county. But when Lee County resident Frances Mitchell asked to see them, then-Lee County State's Attorney Henry Dixon refused her request, saying she would have to pay the court reporter for the transcripts, which would have cost more than $1,000.

Mitchell, an attorney, appealed the issue to the attorney general's office, which found that the county should disclose the transcripts if they were in its custody. They were, so the county released them.

Then the county, by Mainstream's account, asked the company not to give any more transcripts. Why? Was it to save face? Was it because Dixon didn't like Mitchell, with whom he had sparred before?

We never got the answer. Probably because officials didn't have a good one to give.

In November, local attorney Anna Sacco-Miller, who argued against Dixon's record opposing government openness, trounced him in the election. After taking office in December, she arranged for the transcripts to go online.

Again, the public should know that the County Board stood silently by while the former state's attorney played games with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Nearly every board member supports open government in theory, but when the state's attorney is clearly on the wrong side of the law, the members appear to lose the strength of their convictions.

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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