Editorials

Can’t hide public’s business in private e-mail

Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, speak during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday. AP

Bernie Sanders may be a gentleman, but he is off base: We’re not tired of hearing about Hillary’s e-mails. When public officials use private accounts to hide the public’s business, we care and we don’t like it.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act is very clear that it does not matter what physical form a public record takes — paper, electronic database, e-mail, recording — the public body has an obligation to make those records accessible to the public. Some have tried to hide their communications regarding the public’s business, with University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise recently being fired for the practice.

Now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fighting the Chicago Tribune over disclosing e-mails on a private account regarding the red-light traffic camera scandal. Emanuel claims the city can’t provide e-mails that are not in its possession.

Let’s forward this message to all: The law is clear and the case law is clear, including an appellate ruling just two years ago, that public bodies are obligated to conduct public business in the open. When leaders, government employees and contractors use private e-mails to do that business, then those, too, become a matter of public record.

The public and the media should not be forced to continue going to court to reteach that simple principle.

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