PARIS, IL. (ECWd) –
“Faith In Our System”
I have heard those words used lately, but what do they mean?
Do they mean faith in the status quo…Don’t question anything because that’s the way we’ve always done it…That things will fix themselves without outside interference? Does “Faith In Our System” mean never questioning public servants because we have known them all our lives and they certainly wouldn’t have anything but good intentions?
It is my belief that citizens not only have the right to question, but also the obligation to question, for that is the only thing that can possibly maintain “faith in our system”.
Our system provides a mechanism whereby ordinary citizens can demand accountability through speaking their minds during public meetings, having unfiltered access to public records, to know where every penny of our money is spent, and to ensure that our public servants comply with every law to the best of their ability. Without this safeguard there is no “system” as we know it today.
The Illinois Legislature has provided for laws, codes, and statutes that all public officials and public bodies must comply with. With most municipalities and counties in the state, these laws explicitly authorize certain actions of a public body…as opposed to stating what they are not authorized to do. There is a difference.
Over the past few years, we have pointed this out to several local public bodies. “No matter how much it is wanted or needed, if the statute does not allow it, it cannot be performed”. That is an interpretation of Dillon’s Rule that still holds true today.
As far as public participation in governments, there are several laws providing for public access. Those mainly being the Open Meetings Act, Freedom Of Information Act, Local Records Act, and the Illinois Constitution.
The Open Meetings Act demands that all meetings be open to the public with very limited exceptions. The legislature intended all meetings be open and accessible, and they even took steps to ensure that this law be followed and not usurped. If violations occur, the law allows ordinary citizens the opportunity to file suit in circuit court to enforce compliance and even to reverse actions taken during illegal meetings. Citizens can file suit in advance of an illegal meeting for an injunction to stop it, if there is reason to believe a violation will occur. That is a powerful message sent by the legislature and is part of what helps to maintain “Faith In Our System”.
The Freedom Of Information Act requires that all records related to the use of public funds be open and available for inspection and copying by anyone that asks. The legislature’s intent was written into this law as a way of keeping the public informed as to the actions of their government. This is another part of what helps to maintain “Faith In Our System”.
The Local Records Act mandates certain records be kept and does not allow destruction of records without approval. This helps to reinforce the mandate that all records of public funds be open for inspection, making it a crime to destroy records without approval in an attempt at usurping the public’s right to know. This is another part of what helps to maintain “Faith In Our System”.
The Illinois Constitution further states that all records of public funds are open to public inspection according to law…thereby helping to maintain “Faith In Our System”.
When citizens choose to use the tools given them by the legislature, they are treated with disrespect of the worst kind. Accused of wanting to “destroy the county”, inciting violence, wanting to overthrow the government, and a myriad of other claims. This all comes from those trying to protect their little kingdoms and those of their friends. They are not interested in fixing anything, but instead of keeping past actions secret and marginalizing and demonizing those that choose to hold them accountable. Restricting public comments during meetings is another step some public bodies take to stifle those evil truth speakers.
There are laws that protect citizens from such actions by public officials; the Anti-SLAPP Act is one that protects citizens from being sued for speaking out against government and its contractors. Another is the Criminal Code that says “any action by a public official” is a criminal felony if it is an attempt at intimidating a citizen from speaking out. Other rights like the First Amendment are routinely violated by those professing to uphold it, through threats and intimidation of local businesses and citizens.
In an interview, the former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald said “It is my view that sometimes we say that’s the way it is in Illinois or that’s the way it is in Chicago. If you’re finding yourself saying that, what you’re really saying is: ‘That’s the way I will allow it to be,’ ”. “You either speak up and do something about it or you’re part of the problem. That’s the only way to look at it.”
Fitzgerald also authored a letter entitled “The Costs of Public Corruption – And The Need for the Public to Fight Back”. In that letter he talks about the Culture of Acceptance that allows evil to prevail in local governments, and it closely aligns with the Culture of Silence where people are too afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation by those entrusted with the power they so routinely abuse.
Speaking of the Corrupt and Local Issues…
Having had the privilege of spending time in foreign countries, some westernized and some under dictatorship, I cannot fathom how a person that considers themselves a free person can live under the oppressive thumb of those that wish to stifle free speech and freedom of the press. Those oppressors are living amongst us, publicly proclaiming that they support the constitution, while privately intimidating and threatening those that wish to speak out or wish to sell a newspaper. When those oppressors attempt to subject me to their demands, I simply push back harder than ever before…because without freedom and liberty I am nothing but a slave to their demands.
-Over the course of the past few months, I have been asked by numerous people why a certain newspaper “was not allowed” to be sold in Paris. I found that quite shocking that someone would actually believe a newspaper could be banned from being sold. But sadly, an unofficial ban by way of intimidation is what has been going on in Paris for almost a year now and it is sickening.
-People are afraid to click the “like” button on an article because people they know were intimidated and threatened for doing so.
-A “local” bank president circulated a letter asking other bank presidents to sign it because we simply published a list of local banks and their contact information on this website. We published that list to find out which bank was making threats, and we found out. We have a copy of the email and the letter. We also have a copy of the only voice-mail left on our machine, from a bank president, in reference to that listing we published. Now we know which bank president was participating in acts of intimidation. We removed that listing when the goal of publishing it was achieved. By the way, “D.K.”, you should simply quit your job and slither away to a place where people don’t know you.
I simply cannot understand how people are willing to accept it as a price of doing business.
Finally, I have Faith In Our System because the legislature has determined it is our right to access public records and it is our right to question those within our government.
In closing, Dr. Livingston Smith, who has spent a lifetime working on international anti-corruption initiatives and reporting on corruption all over the world was interviewed during an international press association conference. He was asked what he thought the duty of the press was. His reply was that it was the duty of the press of “Fostering a climate of public opinion which regards the corrupt, however rich and powerful they may be, with the contempt they deserve.” We were doing that before I knew about Dr. Smith, and we will keep doing it in an effort to facilitate a more open and honest government.