And sometimes you get it wrong despite your best journalistic effort and applied due diligence! Two cases in point!
Lopez did file his EIS!
The first – and not nearly the only – problem with my August 5 Quick Hits entry on Elgin City Councilman Baldemar Lopez’ Economic Interest Statement was, unbeknownst to me, Governor Pritzker had, indeed, extended the late filing deadline from May 1st to August 3rd.
In my defense, I did email the County Clerk’s vital records department prior to that piece to determine whether there was any kind of official extension. And when I failed to get a timely response, I simply assumed there wasn’t. C’mon! The entire filing process is electronic, so there’s no good COVID consideration for granting elected officials an extension.
My first lapse was believing Pritzker applies any real logic before undertaking a course of action, and the second was not persisting past the Clerk’s office to get a final EIS deadline answer. Trust me, I won’t make either mistake again.
In their defense, the Clerk’s office did respond – four days later – explaining that they had not yet posted the 2020 statements and it would require a FOIA to determine if Lopez had filed his. Of course, I’d been relying on the errant belief that those Clerk EIS portal people were keeping up in the posting regard when they clearly were not.
I won’t make that mistake again, either.
So, I dutifully dashed off the requested FOIA request only to receive a quick response instructing me to look up Lopez on the EIS portal one more time. I’m not sure why I had jump through all those hoops to get there, but we all know that local government is a perpetually fascinating proposition.
Sure enough, there it was! And it had inexplicably been filed way back on February 25! Why it took a FOIA – at their behest – to “encourage” the Clerk’s office to post it more than four months after the fact is completely beyond me. It’s a conundrum along the lines of attempting to explain why the Theory of Relativity utterly falls apart at the quantum level.
But despite that comedy of errors, my basic Lopez EIS contentions remain sound!
First, the Councilman was, indeed, late and fined $15 for filing the document after December 31. And second, his current EIS bears almost no resemblance to the previous year’s in which he failed to note his official Springfield lobbying efforts.
That effectively makes his 2019 document an exercise in perjury, but I’m not going to bother with a complaint because EIS’s violations are not a huge priority in the coronavirus era, and even if the Councilman was found guilty, the fine is barely more than a grand.
Given the unnecessarily twisted Illinois EIS question wording, I also had my doubts about the efficacy of his 2020 filing, particularly Lopez’ use of the term “government/public relations.” But after running it by my favorite municipal attorney, the verdict was it met the absolute minimal filing requirements for an elected official who can clearly be considered a lobbyist.
But even though I had to face down some rather unusual resistance here, there’s no excuse for blowing the due diligence process as badly as I did. So, now I’m gonna have to tell my wife I’m not nearly perfect.
Oh, the ignominy!
The one that got away!
This journalistic phenomenon occurs every two- to three-years, and it’s always quite depressing when it does.
It starts with more than one stellar source coming forward with a story that could clearly cost some public and elected officials’ their heads! Then, just to be absolutely sure about something this big, you reach out to other likely sources and they confirm everything you already know.
That doesn’t always happen, and trust me, it tends to get the big story salivary glands going!
So, you start down tracking down the likely paper trail, and initially, that process looks really promising, too! But immediately after you triumphantly issue the appropriate FOIA requests, the story starts to fall apart, and it falls apart quite quickly, too.
Because when you finally put all the pieces together, you realize that, though your sources’ hearts were in all the right places, none of them were aware of all the facts, and the totality of those facts clearly indicate that nothing untoward took place.
Everything played out almost exactly as it logically should have.
Then, just for good measure, and perhaps in the hope that there’s something’s there, you bring the story to one of your favorite local experts who swiftly puts that nail in the supposed “scoop’s” coffin.
So, you issue a deep sigh, you curse the journalistic deities for ten wasted hours, and though the story never went public and your intentions were good, you have to somewhat apologize to the folks whom you may have pressed a little bit harder than you probably should have because you were convinced you were really onto something.
It’s always a lot of fun!
So, why tell you about the one that got away? Because I thought it was important to note that not every potential story turns out to be one. And unlike it was with the Lopez EIS, this time all that applied due diligence turned out exactly as it should have.
You win some and you certainly lose some!