More transparency from Mayor Rahm and CPS

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Mayor Rahms FOIA practice in action: it takes CPS eight months to turn over a blank piece of paper.
  • Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Mayor Rahm's FOIA practice in action: it takes CPS eight months to turn over a blank piece of paper.

My recent opus on the saga at Ames Middle School was so complicated that I never got around to telling you one of my favorite parts: the so-called FOIAgate angle.

So allow me to eat some hummus for fortification—ah, delicious—take a deep breath, and proceed . . .

In his infinite wisdom Mayor Emanuel decided to change Ames from a we-accept-everyone neighborhood school into a selective-enrollment marine academy.

I guess there were only reruns on the tube that night, so the mayor had nothing better to do with his time.

The mayor announced his Ames decision in October, but by then the fight had been going on for about two years.

Ames backers realized something was up when, in 2012, they learned that CPS had held a "secret" community meeting on changing the boundaries of Mozart Elementary so it was no longer a feeder school to Ames.

At least the locals—members of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association—thought the meeting was secret, because they didn't know about it.

Putting one and one together, they concluded that the mayor's handpicked school board was trying to reduce enrollment at Ames, thus making it easier to justify closing it and turning it over to the marines.

If so, slick move, Mr. Mayor. You really did learn some sneaky shit from those mean girls in the cafeteria at New Trier.

Looking for more information, LSNA sent a Freedom of Information Act request to CPS asking for "the minutes of the community meeting, a copy of any publicity that was done to inform the public, and a list of those who attended and those who spoke."

The Freedom of Information Act is a state law that requires publicly funded operations—like CPS—to turn over public information on the grounds that taxpayers have a right to know how their money is spent.

I have mixed information on how the FOIA works in Chicago. On the one hand, I realize that in the hands of skilled reporters—like Mihalopoulos, Dumke, and Novak—it's a tool to force our elected officials to reveal information they don't want you to see.

On the other hand, most of this info should be readily available in the first place.

FOIA becomes a devious way to keep the public clueless and easier to control.

In any event, Joanna Brown of the LSNA sent her request to CPS in May 2012. Summer, spring, and most of fall came and went with no response.

So on November 8, Brown sent CPS a subtle reminder, along the lines of "WTF, man, where's my FOIA stuff?"

Finally, on January 11, 2013, she got a response—a blank sign-in sheet for a public meeting. At the top of the paper someone had handwritten "no attendees."

In short, it took CPS eight months to send her little more than a blank piece of paper.

To be fair, CPS also sent her a copy of the meeting notice that ran in the legal notice section of the Sun-Times just a few days before they held the meeting.

So it really wasn't a "secret" meeting. It was just a meeting no one knew about.

There's a lesson in all of this, people. If you want to know what's going on, read the Sun-Times' legal notice section! I may have mentioned that once before.

Don't feel bad, Joanna Brown. When north-side resident Glenn Krell asked for "reports and analyses" governing who gets in to Payton, North Side, and other selective-enrollment high schools, CPS officials said they had nothing to show him.

At least they sent you a blank piece of paper.

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