BGA to Chicago City Council: Delay Infrastructure Trust Plan

An open letter to aldermen says the Mayor’s blueprint needs greater scrutiny and more public accountability. It urges the City Council to vote no, or to delay and review, the controversial ordinance.

April 17, 2012

Dear Aldermen:

It is the position of the Better Government Association that the ordinance creating the Infrastructure Trust lacks measures to ensure the transparency, oversight and accountability necessary to protect taxpayers and to properly inform the public about the Trust’s motivations and actions.

The BGA urges you to vote “no” on the ordinance creating the Infrastructure Trust or to defer and publish it, which would postpone its passage long enough to allow further review and possible revisions. Here’s why:

More time is needed to understand the scope and scale of the Infrastructure Trust.

The fast-tracking advocated by the Mayor’s office leaves too little time for Aldermen and public interest groups to fully examine and evaluate the ordinance. The revised ordinance from the Mayor’s office—the one you will be called to vote on tomorrow—has only been public since Friday. An ordinance to create a multi-billion dollar trust with taxpayer money deserves a longer period of time between introduction and passage, and public hearings would help Aldermen and citizens understand the merits and pitfalls of the Mayor’s proposal.

The Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act do not apply to the Infrastructure Trust, a non-profit agency.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) are state statutes that apply only to public bodies. The Illinois Attorney General has jurisdiction over public bodies that fail to comply with the requirements of FOIA and OMA, and a special office (the Public Access Counselor) to assist citizens who are unable to obtain documents via FOIA.

Unlike public bodies, non-profits like the Trust are not subject to Illinois FOIA or OMA. A city ordinance cannot unilaterally extend the authority of the Illinois Attorney General over a non-profit. That means that if the Trust fails to comply with FOIA or OMA, the only recourse is litigation in the courts. Citizens and members of the press submitting FOIA requests to the Trust will not have the protections and assistance offered by the Public Access Counselor, who ensures that public entities comply with FOIA.

The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Infrastructure Trust.

The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Trust because the Trust is a separate entity from the city. To the extent that the Trust enters agreements with the City, the IG could potentially examine those specific agreements. However, the IG’s authority does not extend to deals with related agencies, some of which do not have their own Inspector General. As you know, related city agencies include the Chicago Public Schools, the Housing Authority and the Park District, taxpayer-supported agencies that have great impact on residents’ lives.

For these reasons and more we urge you to vote “no” or move to delay a vote. This is not to denigrate the mayor’s plan but to improve it by adding enough transparency, accountability and oversight measures to avoid another fiasco like the privatization of the parking meters. Let’s go slow and get this one right.

If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to email or call Emily Miller, BGA Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator, at emiller@bettergov.org or 773-203-9654; or Robert Reed, BGA Director of Investigations and Programming, at 312-203-5722 or rreed@bettergov.org.

Thank you.

Andy Shaw
President and CEO

Emily Miller
Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Transparency

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