Transparent government in Madison County seems to be getting more opaque, or at least hazy from several sources of smoke and heat.
State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons and his Madison County Public Corruption Task Force came swooping in Jan. 10 to grab computers from the county worker who used to handle Freedom of Information Act requests. Then the current FOIA office is subpoenaed for a representative to appear before a grand jury on Thursday.
Here’s what everyone should really, really hope is not happening in Madison County. Hope they are not trying to punish those who released embarrassing e-mails from Gibbons’ staffers that showed an illegal fantasy baseball pool operating with judges and the prosecutor’s office staff in 2012 and using county resources to send invitations to a political fundraiser for state Sen. William Haine, D-Alton.
Suspicious minds would wonder how those embarrassing e-mails from Gibbons’ office could be provided in response to a FOIA request July 20, then a week later Jeff Ezra, an attorney in Gibbons’ office given the same FOIA request, could respond that those same embarrassing e-mails from Gibbons’ office did not exist — not that they could not be released, but did not exist. Was someone’s trousers aflame? Then Ezra asked that the information released by the county FOIA officer be returned — we’re thinking as some kind of comic relief, as in “you must be joking.”
More fodder for suspicious minds comes from Gibbons, who in an Aug. 18 memo apparently labeled the e-mail release as a “possible breach of confidential communications and data.” County IT Director Rob Dorman then wrote an e-mail to Gibbons: “What you are terming a data breach is the process for responding to an FOIA, and Jeff Ezra of your office was aware of the requests starting July 10.”
Data breach. Political embarrassment. Illegal activity in the prosecutor’s office. Tomato, tom-ah-toe.
So now county Chairman Kurt Prenzler is talking about “hybrid e-mail hosting” that allows elected office holders more control over their e-mails.
Sounds like elected county leaders need less control over their e-mails, not more, given their propensity to lie about damaging information even existing and then deciding to conduct an inquisition into “data breaches” and “public corruption” when those e-mails get out.
Maybe it would be simpler all around had Gibbons just sent staffers an e-mail: No politicking, no gambling, no guarantee of privacy when you are using a taxpayer-funded resource that the public has a legal right to see, with very few exceptions.
Last time we checked, betting pools and campaign fundraisers were not among the items exempt from FOIA disclosure.