Kadner: Why is Gov. Quinn hiding reports on third airport?
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 May 29, 2012 10:56PM
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn
Updated: August 23, 2012 9:51AM
Gov. Pat Quinn is refusing to release reports by a law firm that apparently investigated the legality of a South Suburban Airport governing body.
This newspaper has filed a freedom of information request for all expenses, research, memorandums and reports by the law firm Holland and Knight relative to its recommendations regarding the planned third major airport near Peotone.
The governor’s office released financial data indicating that the state paid Holland and Knight $119,590 in 2010 for “legal advice” on airport governance and another $45,800 in 2011.
In addition, the law firm was paid $115,000 in 2010 and $31,000 in 2011 for legal advice on land condemnation related to the airport.
But the governor’s office refused to provide 50 communications and memos the law firm prepared for the Illinois Department of Transportation, claiming that the documents are covered by attorney-client privilege.
The SouthtownStar appealed that decision to the Illinois attorney general’s public access counselor, which has asked the governor’s office for copies of all the documents to determine if they are legitimately covered by attorney-client privilege, an exemption to the state’s freedom of information law.
The obvious question here is a simple one — what is the governor hiding?
The Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission, consisting of several south suburbs, was founded under the guidance of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2nd) to solicit bids from private contractors to build the airport.
In 2005, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion that since ALNAC’s 32 members at the time included more nonhome-rule suburbs than home-rule suburbs, the commission would be required to issue separate bidding guidelines to design and build the airport.
ALNAC was subsequently reconstituted to include only home-rule municipalities: University Park, Park Forest, South Holland, Calumet Park and Elk Grove Village. There are several vacant spots on the commission reserved for Will County home-rule suburbs, but none has come forward to claim the seats.
Will County officials, who have long been at odds over Jackson’s involvement in the airport project and the abundance of Cook County suburbs involved, have claimed that ALNAC is not a viable legal entity.
If Quinn has a legal opinion on that issue, it might put to rest some of the political squabbling in the Southland.
I certainly don’t see how it is in the public’s interest to keep such legal opinions a secret.
In addition to attorney-client privilege, the governor’s office contends that the records are exempt from disclosure because they are “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are formulated.”
In a response to this newspaper’s appeal to the attorney general’s office, the governor’s office states, “The records contain H&K’s legal advice, which in turn reflects the governor’s office’s consideration of specific airport-related policy matters.
“Further, each of the withheld records discusses hypothetical approaches to airport governance and structure, and hence reflect and/or contain strategy discussions that plainly are exempt from disclosure...”
So what is the governor hiding, and who exactly is he hiding it from?
The people of this state are entitled to know what the issues are and what the state’s strategy is.
There is an implication in Quinn’s response that these legal strategies are being kept secret in case ALNAC, Will County or some other group files a lawsuit challenging the state’s ultimate decision about a governing body.
It’s best for the state, therefore, to keep its legal arguments a secret until that day comes when everyone is in a courtroom, the governor’s office seems to contend.
This is hardly the transparency that Quinn promised when he took office following the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich.
It is not the open government that Quinn championed when he was a private citizen and critic of the back room deals that have resulted in Illinois being called the most corrupt state in the country.
It is in the public’s interest to know if there is a legal opinion that challenges, or upholds, ALNAC’s authority to act as a governing body for the third airport.
It would obviously be in the interest of Will County officials to have a clear understanding of what is required, should they form such a governing commission.
The only real secret here is why Quinn believes his office must keep this information from the public.
Governor, release the records. Fulfill your promise to the people of this state to run an open government.