Carpentersville has always been an interesting proposition. There was that marvelous dichotomy known as Jack Roeser, a city councilman who beat his wife but wouldn’t resign, and that Tea Party prescient 2006 anti-immigration drive that divided the council, the city, and destroyed businesses and neighborhoods without making a dent in the crime rate.
Who can forget former Village President Bill Sarto’s legendary city council performances forever immortalized on Youtube? Then he went on to lose a county chair race to an opponent who didn’t even bother to campaign.
But despite that vast and storied history, this city’s most recent attempt to make headlines may well take the cake.
And this particular form of embarrassment started with the still unexplained post traffic stop death of 31 year-old Joshua Paul on August 17. For the full details, please avail yourself of DH reporter Jake Griffin’s account of what happened that day.
Fast forward to the end of August and, after the DH sought to obtain the Paul arrest report and accompanying police video via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), citing the need for an unimpeded investigation, the City of C’ville refused to comply.
Ah! But the problem with the village board’s “legal” theory was, since law enforcement officers can only act on behalf of the people, their reports and videos, by definition (and state statute), are public records that, regardless of any ongoing investigation, must be released upon request. Refusal to do so is not an option – at least that’s what any rational person understands.
So armed with the truth, the DH turned to the Public Access Counselor (PAC), an arm of Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office charged with the mediation of rejected FOIA requests. I’m not sure why it took ‘em nearly two months (they’ve gotten back to me much quicker), but on October 15, they ruled in favor of the Daily Herald and told Carpentersville to turn over the goods.
Not being a group to take “yes” for an answer, in a clear violation of the law, citing the same specious investigation argument, the Carpentersville village board balked again.
And they embarked upon this blatantly illegal course of action because, as every single journalist in the state sadly knows, unless the Attorney General’s office expends the precious resources required to offer a rare “binding decision,” the Illinois FOIA law ultimately has no teeth. So the DH’s only recourse is to take the City of Carpentersville to court.
And that’s exactly what they have to do!
Because if they don’t, why would any government entity honor any future FOIA request on the part of any newspaper? I hate to cast the Daily Herald as the guardian of all things journalistically holy, but you can bet your bottom dollar that every last Illinois municipality is salivating over the prospect of getting away with even more bullshit than they already do.
Not only that, but the failure to fight back will be even worse for the Daily Herald because it sets such a terrible precedent.
Let’s say I’m the City of Bartlett and I just get handed a brand new DH FOIA request. All I have to do is come up with some reasonably sounding, but worthless excuse to refuse their request and when the PAC inevitably rules against me, I’ll simply flip them the C’ville bird because I know I can get away with it.
But the worst thing is, if the DH isn’t willing to fight for this most basic of all principles, then why should we believe anything they print? Their editorials, endorsements and columns are all compromised by the fact that that we don’t know if they really mean it.
So let’s hope the DH leads the legal charge and asks the courts for punitive damages (to be donated to charity) just to make a point.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself on the wrong end of one Carpentersville’s finest, I happen to have a fantastic suggestion for you. Ignore them! Moving violation? Rip it up! Parking tickets? Toss ‘em in the trash! Code enforcer pays you a visit? Simply slam the door on him!
Don’t even bother with building permits, water bills, ambulance fees, liquor licenses, or for that matter, zoning laws. Because if seven separate Carpentersville village board members can willingly sign the following oath of office:
“I solemnly swear that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office in accordance with the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the State of Illinois, and the laws of the State of Illinois, to the best of my ability.”
and then turn around and ignore the very law they swore to uphold, then so can you!