Editorials

Collinsville loses fight to hide public business

Former Collinsville City Manager Scott Williams, center, compiled the files being sought by the Freedom of Information Act request. Councilwoman Nancy Moss, at left, tried to save Williams’ job and claimed he was being fired for investigating Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich and Mayor John Miller. Miller is at right.
Former Collinsville City Manager Scott Williams, center, compiled the files being sought by the Freedom of Information Act request. Councilwoman Nancy Moss, at left, tried to save Williams’ job and claimed he was being fired for investigating Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich and Mayor John Miller. Miller is at right. znizami@bnd.com

Voters have a right to know whether they elected to the Collinsville City Council a thief, a former city worker who made an innocent mistake or a wrongly accused public servant.

So after an eight-month fight with city leaders, Madison County Associate Judge Don Flack on Friday ruled that they must honor the News-Democrat’s request under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act for records pertaining to Councilwoman Cheryl Brombolich’s conduct while she served as the city clerk. They have 10 days to honor the order.

If Collinsville city leaders had gotten their way, they would have kept hidden the records that show whether Brombolich a decade ago used city credit cards and city accounts to shop on Amazon and elsewhere, hid the evidence and then tried again to cover it up by coercing a co-worker. Essentially they wanted to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act and keep the records secret by placing them in a file labeled as a “disciplinary record.” Those e-mails and credit card statements would all be open to public inspection if they were just filed away with other city records.

“(Collinsville) cannot demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the documents requested by (the News-Democrat) are exempt from disclosure,” Flack wrote Friday.

The News-Democrat argued that FOIA exemptions only extend to personnel reviews, and the documents assembled by former City Manager Scott Williams for City Council members in a disciplinary case were not exempt. Collinsville City Attorney Steve Giacoletto argued that releasing the records would discourage cities from assembling files for disciplinary cases.

At least three courts had already ruled that the public has a right to records compiled by public officials regarding discipline of public workers. Flack’s ruling is the fourth.

Transparency is expected of our leaders and our public institutions. Access to the nuts and bolts of government’s machinery ensures honesty and efficiency with our tax dollars.

The state’s FOIA law got a little stronger this week as the News-Democrat was able to close in on making the public’s business public.

  Comments