Want local officials' salary info? Look online
Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 2:45 pm | Updated: 8:55 pm, Wed Oct 28, 2015.
David Giuliani, email@example.com, 815-431-4041 | 0 comments
If you want to find out how much a specific employee for the city of Ottawa makes, you don't have to seek that information from City Hall.
The same goes for most local government entities, including schools.
With a few clicks of a mouse, you can search the salaries database at openthebooks.com, with information dating back to 2000. There's even an app for it.
On Tuesday, Adam Andrzejewski, the founder of Open the Books, spoke to the La Salle County Tea Party about his group's efforts to put the spotlight on government spending. The website is a project of American Transparency, a nonprofit group.
To build the database, Andrzejewski obtained salary information from the state's pension funds, which collect the data from government entities. This practice circumvents the labor-intensive practice of filing public records requests with each of Illinois' thousands of units of government.
Because of this method, the database excludes employees who aren't contributing to the pension systems. And little information is available on the website for firefighters and police officers, who belong to hundreds of local police and fire pension funds. Getting that information would be labor-intensive.
Open the Books also includes checkbook spending for the state government as well as many colleges and school districts statewide.
At the tea party meeting, Andrzejewski recounted his group's exposure of misspending at the College of DuPage, an effort that ultimately resulted in the firing of the college's president and other officials.
He also noted that his group has investigated federal agencies. For instance, it found the EPA has spent $92 million on mostly upscale furniture in the past decade, he said.
Andrzejewski criticized Attorney General Lisa Madigan's record on pursuing corruption.
"She has a staff of 900, but she can't find corruption in Illinois," he said.
Because the attorney general won't pursue it, Andrzejewski said, the job is left to the Illinois' 102 state's attorneys.
"They are political creations of the machine that got them into office," he said. "None of the state's attorneys want to pursue corruption either. How do you clean up Illinois? You have to contest state's attorney's races. I get that that this is tough, but we need a new generation of leadership. It all starts with state's attorneys."
La Salle County State's Attorney Brian Towne, a Democrat, was in the audience. Two Republicans, Karen Donnelly and Betty Roliardi, are vying for the Republican nomination to face Towne in 2016.
The Freedom of Information Act, Andrzejewski said, is one of the people's most important tools.
"As a movement, we need to stop thinking blindly and emotionally," he told an audience of about 75 people at the Pitstick Pavilion north of Ottawa. "We need to fight with hard facts. Our founders recognized that knowledge is power."
In the Internet age, he said, that means putting every dime of spending online in real time.
The audience applauded.
Open the Books started in Illinois, but it now reaches nationwide. The website contains checkbook spending for every state but North Carolina and California.
Illinois' public records law, Andrzejewski said, is "pretty good" compared with other states.
After Andrzejewski's speech, a tea party leader asked audience members whether they would like to see the Open the Books founder speak again.
Most said yes.
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