Chicago - Nov. 17, 2017
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The [Tuesday] Papers

"The city of Chicago paid out about $670,000 last year to plaintiffs in lawsuits alleging that officials violated open records law - nearly five times what the city paid in the previous eight years combined," the Tribune reports.

"Experts and attorneys said the mounting payouts in Freedom of Information Act cases raise concerns about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's pledge to run 'the most open, accountable and transparent government that the city of Chicago has ever seen.'"

Because up until now that pledge was being fulfilled? "Concerns" are just now being "raised?"

In 2012, Rahm told the Tribune's David Kidwell his definition of transparency:

This is where you have narrowed the word of transparency. There is nothing more transparent than standing up in front of the City Council calling for an increase in water rates to go to pay for a critical crisis that is in our city. That's fully transparent.

Now you have narrowed your definition of transparency to fit your storyline. Now what can be more transparent and public than standing in front of the City Council and then a monthlong debate and then it passes - that is, in all due respect, not only transparent, democracy.

And so, you have narrowed your definition. I am trying to get you to widen it. You've decided to have a definition of transparency to work for a story line you've decided before the story started. I have actually stood in front of the City Council and announced what I was doing.

That was a year after I wrote "Rahm's Fake Transparency" in December 2011.

Hell, Rahm wasn't even transparent during his first campaign for mayor when he was making the pledge to be the most transparent ever.

Instead, the story's frame ought to be Rahm upping the ante - with taxpayer money - in his continued battle against transparency, not the lukewarm question of whether he may be falling short of his (insincere) pledge.

Beyond that, for perspective, it would be relevant to note if Rahm's administration is even more secretive than the administration of Richard M. Daley. And if that's so, which I suspect it is, it would be worth considering if his is the most non-transparent (anti-transparent, even) administration in modern Chicago history. Dig into the question.

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"Jeffrey M. Shaman, a DePaul University professor who teaches constitutional law and the First Amendment, said the city's spike in lawsuits and payments 'makes one wonder if the city is willing to comply in good faith with the requirements of FOIA.'"

Makes one wonder? Again, if anyone is still wondering if Rahm's administration is willing to act in good faith when it comes to FOIA, they've been in a coma for five years.

But instead of detailing the myriad ways City Hall has stymied reporters (and citizens) and twisted FOIA into an Orwellian tool of obfuscation, we get this:

In a Law Department statement, the city said it "works diligently to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and responds to thousands of public information requests each year, with only a small percentage of requests disputed."

"However, there is always room for improvement, and during the past year, the city has dedicated additional resources and provided employees with additional training to ensure compliance and provide transparency to the public," the statement said. "It is not acceptable for any city department to ignore or unnecessarily delay a response to a request, nor is it acceptable for a department to improperly apply exemptions."

The city's statement reiterated Emanuel's transparency pledges and touted the administration's creation of a data portal and a written policy "that guarantees the public's timely access to video and audio recordings" from police-involved incidents.

Nobody knows the falsity of that statement better than the Tribune, which, as the article breezily notes, is one of several organizations involved in the 27 FOIA lawsuits that accounted for last year's payout, which, frankly, is arguably a lot less than it should've been. Few folks have the resources to fight these cases to conclusion - or even to begin the fight.

Asked how the city justifies the amount paid out over open records lawsuits, the Law Department said the most common reason it's been sued are "claims of incomplete record searches and incorrectly applied exemptions."

"In these cases, the city works to resolve these cases by providing evidence that searches were reasonable and the exemptions were correctly applied, or by providing additional documents," the statement said. "However, the city has an obligation to defend these suits and ensure that the privacy protections afforded by the FOIA statute are protected."

First, how do you let the city get away with providing a statement in a story about transparency? Second, is the statement remotely true? If so, city officials are the good guys! They're protecting FOIA!

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Guess who else provided a statement? The Tribune!

"We are disappointed that we continually need to resort to litigation to get access to documents the law requires be made public as a matter of course," Karen Flax, the Tribune's vice president for legal, said in a statement. "The uptick in lawsuits reflects the city's disregard for the importance of the open records law and the fact that the city is understaffed in this area. It is pay now or pay later: If the city would produce the records to which the public is entitled in the first place, we would not need to file lawsuits and incur legal fees which the city then needs to cover."

That sounds great, but can we ask you some questions now?

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Dear Media: Please resolve for 2017: No more statements; especially on stories about transparency. It's much more powerful - and accurate - to say that officials refused to answer questions, which is what they're doing.

Also: No more journalese, like "raises concerns." Think harder about frames. The angle, and trajectory, of a story matters. Finally, tell it like it is; you don't have to be "diplomatic" to be fair - especially if it introduces mistruths into the proceedings.

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On The Beachwood

New today . . .

Detentions, Suspension & Expulsion Do Not Curb Violent Behavior
"When schools apply highly punitive and restrictive procedures, problem behaviors such as rebellion toward teachers, vandalism against school property, absenteeism and truancy actually increase."

In All His Wildest Dreams
A protest against forgetting.

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From Taint Week . . .

Beachwood Photo Booth: American Housemates
Happy awful new year.

Dear Chicago
If you run away, don't you go to Chicago.

Will Trump Be A Tyrant? Some Classical Pointers
According to Aristotle, tyranny inherits the worst features of other types of government: from oligarchy the love of money; from democracy the hostility to the established governing classes; and from monarchy, the contempt of the people.

The Fight In 2016 To Rein In NSA Surveillance
No one - including members of Congress tasked with overseeing these surveillance programs - seems to know how many Americans have their communications swept up by surveillance.

2016 Was Totally Awesome! (For Billionaires)
A $237 billion gain for the world's uber-wealthy.

The New Student Loan Crisis
"Predatory and counterproductive."

Happy Christmas From Jonathan Pie
Society is broken.

Jonathan Pie: 2016 In Review
As foretold by Boaty McBoatface and a Chinese monkey.

Peabody Preparing To Shift Mine Cleanup Costs To Public?
Yes.

The Beachwood Radio Sports Hour's 2016 In Review: The Cubbie Effect
Everybody's new (misunderstood) model. Including: White Sox Salvage Arrow; The Rebuild-A-Bears Narrative; Bulls Blow Up; and We Love Coach Q Deja Vu.

The Blue & Orange Kool-Aid Report
Bears only 16 impact players away.

SportsMonday: Get To Work, Bears
You are all lucky to have your jobs, even you McCaskeys!

The Weekend In Chicago Rock
Featuring: Merry-achi, Supa Bwe, Bear Mace, Dysphoria, Inept, 30db, Cafe Tecuba, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, William Basinski, Sisqo, and Mary J. Blige.

The Week In Chicago Rock
Featuring: Quiet, Owen and the Ghosts, Vimic, and Dan Rico.

The Weekend In Chicago Rock
Featuring: The Suicide Machines, High on Fire, Better Than Ezra, Poi Dog Pondering, Patti Smith, Silkk The Shocker, Fien, Umphrey's McGee, In Masks, Vietrahm, and Electric Sheep.

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BeachBook
A sampling.

Deustche Bank An Example Of Banking's Immorality.

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Surveillance Without Borders.

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Chicago Teens Now Have Free Access To The Art Institute.

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TweetWood
A sampling.

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The Beachwood Tronc Line: Do your job.



Permalink

Posted on January 3, 2017


MUSIC - Song Of The Moment: Alabama.
TV - Media Consolidation To Get Even Worse.
POLITICS - Offshore Leaks Database.
SPORTS - Beachwood Radio: Broken Bears; Cubs' 7-Year Itch.

BOOKS - Inside The Book Of The Dead.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Lakes, Cheese & You.


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