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May 13, 2014

No excuse for secret pacts in St. Clair County

St. Clair County leaders would rather you not know about the $665,000 they paid to settle five sexual harassment claims against former County Clerk Bob Delaney, and it's not because they're concerned about the victims.

The county paid out those tax dollars in December without lawsuits or criminal charges being filed. County officials refused to release the secret settlements, stating it would break their confidentiality agreements with the employees. But the county's overriding agreement is with the public to provide open, accountable government. That's not just our view, but the opinion of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

The county released the settlements, but State's Attorney Brendan Kelly refused to release the names of the women involved. He said he didn't want to discourage victims from coming forward. But why wouldn't they? The victims didn't do anything wrong.

Madigan's office on Tuesday reiterated that the names are public information. "We find it is not an invasion of privacy to have the names disclosed, and even if we would find it is an invasion of privacy, public interest in the information would outweigh that," said Sarah Pratt, the state's public access counselor.

Kelly still won't release the names, but the Illinois Human Rights Commission had no hesitation about doing so.

In our view, county leaders stonewalled not to protect the women but to shield themselves.

Given the allegations against Delaney by at least 13 employees -- of inappropriate sexual conduct, racial slurs, drinking on the job and more -- his fellow Democratic Party members had to know long ago about the problems. They were too slow to react, and now the taxpayers are paying the price.

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