What about courtesy for public?

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 3:07 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 3:37 p.m. CDT

Public officials love to talk about how they support open government. But sometimes their deeds don't match their words.

Recently, I asked Sterling Township Supervisor Matt Howze for the salary of the township road commissioner, Jim Lopez.

Any citizen is entitled to that information. So Howze could have simply given it.

He didn’t. He told me I could get the salary amount from the township’s budget filed at the County Courthouse in Morrison. But no salaries were listed in those documents. 

He also said I could file a Freedom of Information Act request. I did. And while doing that, I also asked for everyone’s salaries.

But the township didn’t provide what I requested. It gave me a list of employees and categorized them under salary ranges – less than $15,000, $15,000 to $30,000, and more than $30,000. 

I asked again, and the township finally gave me the actual salaries. Lopez is budgeted for $44,000 a year.

Why didn’t Howze just give me that information in the first place? He said it was out of “professional courtesy” to Lopez. 

Howze added that he didn’t run the Sterling Township road district. He’s right about that. But under the law, he serves as the district’s treasurer. In other words, he oversees its finances, so he has a duty to provide information to the public, including annoying reporters.

Howze is a nice guy, so I was surprised to encounter his resistance.

Fortunately, a nonprofit group, For the Good of Illinois, posts online the income of nearly every government employee in Illinois for the last decade. It’s a wealth of information at openthebooks.com. 

As it happens, Lopez isn’t listed on the site, although others in the township are. 

Indeed, this kind of information should be readily available on each government entity’s website. Unfortunately, Sterling Township and others prefer to place roadblocks.

That’s why the For the Good of Illinois website is so important.

The other day, one government official in Dixon told me that he doesn’t like me, but he wants me to continue to write stories about townships.

“That dog is working,” he said. “Keep on it.”

We at Sauk Valley Media will. 

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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