An odd turn of events comes to us out of City Hall in Chicago this week. Back on the campaign trail, when Lori Lightfoot was running to become the next mayor of the Windy City, she had a consistent theme. She frequently used the slogan, “bringing in the light.” As mayor, she said, she would have a mandate to “clean up a broken and corrupt political machine” at City Hall. During more than one debate she took a page from Joe Biden’s playbook and promised she “would make city government much more transparent and accountable for sure.”
Somewhere along the way, however, that all changed. The local CBS News outlet began an investigation into allegations of complaints by municipal workers about racist comments, harassment, and discrimination. The workers told CBS that such complaints were common. So back in 2020, they launched an investigation, submitting FOIA requests to City Hall asking for all relevant records where complaints were received regarding “racism, harassment, or discrimination,” starting at the Department of Streets and Sanitation, where some of the whistleblowers worked. The news outlet was consistently denied and not a single record was produced. But now the state Attorney General has stepped in and said that the City of Chicago had violated public records laws and the records must be released immediately. The ball is back in Lightfoot’s court.
The City of Chicago broke the law in refusing a CBS 2 public records request about racism and discrimination among city workers.
That’s the assessment the Illinois Attorney General made in a rare binding opinion issued last week.
In other words, the city must release the records, or they could face penalties.
Various experts have weighed in while awaiting the response from the Attorney General, saying that this wasn’t a simple policy difference. It’s one of the most egregious examples of violating the applicable public records laws that they could recall seeing. The city claims that the records couldn’t be released because they contain personal information about city employees. But that’s a silly defense since the personal information can easily be redacted.
So what has really been going on during Mayor Lightfoot’s tenure? Keep in mind that this is a Democratic administration in a city that is almost entirely run by Democrats at every level. Aren’t they supposed to be the champions of minorities on a self-appointed mission to root out discrimination, oppression, and harassment wherever it might be found? Shouldn’t Lori Lightfoot and her team have been eagerly wading into this battle and exposing the wrongdoers while bringing justice to the workers who were allegedly subjected to such treatment?
Perhaps those lofty morals and ideas don’t apply if it’s your own administration doing the oppressing and discriminating. To be clear, the few incidents the public has been made aware of were not minor in nature. One involved a Black husband-and-wife team of sanitation truck drivers who recorded people from the dispatch office repeatedly using the n-word when talking to or about some of the drivers, many of whom are Black and Hispanic. Other reports suggested sexual harassment and innuendo between supervisors and workers. From the sound of things, it wasn’t a lot of fun to be working at Streets and Sanitation unless you were in management.
And these workers obviously complained about it. They filed reports without seeing any disciplinary action taken. And when CBS went through the proper channels to obtain copies of those complaints as part of their investigation, the Mayor’s office slammed the door in their faces. But now, after the enforceable decision handed down by the State Attorney General, that may be about to change. And if it doesn’t, someone may have a date with a judge in their future.