Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quinn wants police evaluations sealed

By Jamey Dunn

Employees working in state law enforcement would have their performance evaluations sealed from the public under an amendatory veto issued by Gov. Pat Quinn.

House Bill 5154 originally blocked all public employees’ performance evaluations from potentially being accessed under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, Quinn said in his veto message that such a broad exemption would undermine FOIA reform approved just last year.

Quinn said law enforcement evaluations could be used to influence the criminal justice process. “If disclosed, these evaluations could be used by criminal suspects or defendants to undermine a police investigation or attack the credibility and integrity of a police officer."

Opponents say it is too soon to make any changes to the new FOIA regulations. “This is poor public policy on so many levels. The new FOIA law needs to be given time to work before being assaulted with attempts to make changes and exemptions. We urged the Governor to veto the entire bill and still believe that was the best action to take.” Dennis DeRossett, executive director of the Illinois Press Association, said in a written statement.

“We really wanted the governor to completely veto the legislation because we feel transparency is the best alternative," said Melissa Hahn, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. However, we are pleased that he at least took the step of limiting the scope of the bill to police officers. … People should be able to find out if all sorts of public employees -- whether it be teachers police of state government workers -- are doing their jobs and are doing their jobs well. After all, we’re all paying for it.”

Supporters of the original legislation point to its bipartisan support from lawmakers and say that opening up the records could interfere with the evaluation process. Managers considering the possibility of an evaluation becoming public may not be as honest with criticism.

“We had urged the governor to sign the bill. It was commonsense legislation to preserve the confidentiality of private records containing personal info ... not just for reasons of personal privacy but in order to ensure that managers at all levels of government know that their evaluations will serve their intended purpose,”said Anders Lindall, spokesman for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, state government's largest union.

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