For all the talk of email servers in the presidential race, you’d think Chicago aldermen would have learned their lesson by now: Don’t mix city business with private property.
But 19 city aldermen are using private email accounts for their public duties, according to an Aug. 31 report from Project Six, a corruption watchdog group founded by former Chicago Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan.
While the city issues all aldermen and all city employees their own government-run email addresses, which are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, many aldermen have eschewed that option in favor of less transparency and security.
“It is not acceptable for Chicago aldermen to be conducting city business in an opaque and insecure fashion by using private emails,” Khan said in a press release.
“Regardless of whether these actions are accidents or purposeful attempts to keep their work out of the public eye, they need to stop, and all city business should be done openly and honestly.”
Project Six investigators identified private email accounts listed on the city of Chicago’s website, aldermanic websites and aldermanic offices’ social media accounts.
Thankfully, Illinois FOIA law appears to be strong enough to access these emails. But that would more than likely require a court order – something an average citizen would have trouble obtaining.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently rebuked efforts from the Chicago Police Department, or CPD, to protect emails sent on private accounts related to the killing of Laquan McDonald. CPD argued the emails weren’t subject to FOIA because they were not created by or for, used by, received by or in the control of a public body. The department also argued that accessing those emails would constitute an invasion of privacy.
They were wrong.
In striking down the department’s argument, Madigan cited a federal appeals court decision stating that “an agency always acts through its employees and officials. If one of them possesses what would otherwise be agency records, the records do not lose their agency character just because the official who possesses them takes them out the door[.]”
CPD officers’ claim to privacy was dead on arrival.
Illinois’ FOIA law explicitly states, “The disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy.”
Chicago is the nation’s corruption capital. And Chicago City Council is historically one of the most corrupt major political bodies in the country. Over the past 40 years, 33 of some 200 Chicago aldermen have been convicted of crimes such as bribery, extortion, embezzlement and conspiracy.
It doesn’t matter whether aldermen are using these private accounts due to carelessness or for more nefarious reasons. Either way, it’s a slap in the face to city residents who have been burned by a lax ethics culture in City Council for decades.
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