The Chicago Tribune is suing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for not complying with public records requests after the mayor refused to release communications about city business conducted through private emails and text messages.
The lawsuit states that the mayor uses private phones and private emails to conduct city business as a way to avoid the public release of his city related correspondences and activity.
The Chicago Tribune seeks to receive emails and electronic communications pertaining to a controversial red light camera system in Chicago, a system mired in controversy and corruption.
The yellow lights were timed shorter with an intended outcome to catch more people running red lights, resulting in more traffic ticket money for the city, according to an investigative report by the Tribune last year.
More than $500 million was generated from the Chicago red light traffic system, the largest in the nation, according to the lawsuit filed last month, which can be read here.
City officials boasted the red light system would make intersections and driving safer, but an uptick in injury-related crashes occurred as a result of the red light system because of the shorter duration of yellow lights.
Because of these crashes, 50 of the cameras were removed at 25 intersections within the city.
Redflex Traffic Systems was the vendor that created the system along with former Chicago city official John Bills. It was quickly discovered that Bills and Redflex CEO David Kidwell were involved in a $2 million bribery scheme to implement the red light system in Chicago.
Kidwell and Bills were both relieved of their duties.
It is common for officials to use personal email to skirt Freedom of Information Act requests.
Recently, Phyllis Wise who is the Chancellor of The University of Illinois used personal emails to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests.
The Chancellor has since resigned from the university. Additionally, it was brought to light that Hillary Clinton used private emails to conduct official government business too.
This is the second time the Chicago Tribune has sued Mayor Emanuel; in June 2015 suit was filed regarding the non-disclosure of emails of a multi-million-dollar no-bid Chicago Public Schools contract. That suit is pending.
According to Chicago Tribune Editor Gerould Kern:
“We are seeking the release of public records on matters of great interest to citizens, but the city refuses to divulge them. Regrettably, the city’s denial is part of a pattern of resistance to releasing public documents covered by the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. We are compelled, therefore, to go to court for the second time in three months to force the city’s compliance.”
But Mayor Emanuel said he has done nothing wrong:
“We always comply and work through all of the Freedom of Information (requests) in the most responsive way possible. I have a practice that my political and personal stays on my private email, and city business is on the government, and that’s the way I operate.”
Written communications by government officials relating to city or government business are subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, including electronic communications.
FOIA is Open For Everyone To Use
The Freedom of Information Act is open for anyone to request public records from city and government officials. You don’t have to be the media, you don’t have to be a corporate hotshot, just be you.
Making a Freedom of Information Act request is as simple as sending a formal email or letter to the public information officer of a city or government entity.
Requests can even be made in person. If a government or city entity violates your public records request, you, the citizen have every right to take legal action against the violating party.
In this day and age, there is a constant need for transparency within the bodies that spend our tax dollars and make important decisions concerning our everyday lives.