Recently, I wrote a column about how Morrison Alderwoman Sarah Thorndike, who lost in the April 9 mayoral election, promised to open the lines of communication with the public. Yet, in 2011, she took part in the effort to keep the city’s settlement with General Electric under wraps.
Every council member told Sauk Valley Media at the time that the settlement over industrial pollution was confidential, saying that was the advice of their attorney, Lester Weinstine. We pointed out that state law required such settlements be open to the public.
No member apparently bothered to question Weinstine on this issue. The city only backed down on our request for the settlement documents when the attorney general decided to investigate.
In a recent email, a local politician disagreed with my column, saying it was unfair to “dredge up a 2-year-old subject that you kicked around previously.” The politician said it wasn’t right to take Thorndike to task for a decision she made 2 years ago.
I disagree. During the campaign, voters should examine the public records of candidates and compare them with their rhetoric.
The politician also said members want to avoid jeopardizing the entity, so they don’t reveal information that their attorney says is confidential.
True, but shouldn’t our elected representatives question the attorney, especially when someone shows them a law that directly contradicts his advice?
This politician also said the attorney should get the blame, not the City Council.
My response: Both should.
Well-intentioned mistakes with open-government laws can happen – it’s understandable. But when a member of the public – in this case, the newspaper – points out the law in which taxpayers are entitled to see government records, then the governing body should correct the error.
In this case, Thorndike and the others did nothing.
This politician advised me that I should run for public office to broaden my perspective and “gain insights that you are obviously not aware of from the outside looking in.”
“Without a broadened perspective on this and other issues, you will never achieve a status as a well-respected journalist,” the politician wrote. “Perhaps that is not a goal of yours.”
Thanks for the invite, but I think I’ll stay on the “outside looking in.”
David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.