AG: City must turn over alderman job applications

March 5, 2010 4:33:50 PM PST
The Illinois Attorney General's office says the Mayor's office must turn over job applications for the two vacant Alderman positions.

The city had tried to keep the information secret. Late this afternoon, the AG's public access counselor, Cara Smith, ruled that the public should have access to information about the application process.

"When this public office becomes vacant, it follows that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing who has applied for the position so that they may evaluate whether the individuals are qualified to represent a particular ward and discern why one applicant was appointed over others," wrote Smith in the ruling.

The City of Chicago's Law Department had denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the information earlier this week claiming it would be an invasion of privacy that could cause "irreparable harm" to the applicants. On Wednesday, when ABC 7 pressed Mayor Richard Daley about his office's attempt to keep the applications private, he told reporters he would release the names. Almost immediately, a Mayoral spokesman said Daley had misspoken.

"I have to have some confidentiality when people come in to see me and talk to me," Daley said Thursday in explaining his desire to keep the list of Aldermanic hopefuls secret. Daley suggested some applicants may lose their current jobs if their desire for public office becomes publicly known. "You have to do it in a confidential way because many are just coming to me and giving me their ideas," Daley said. "They're already employed and don't want their employer to know."

When asked why a person would petition him for public office if they have privacy or employment concerns Daley drew the following distinction: "They're not public officials now, they are seeking to be public officials."

The AG's ruling denies the city's privacy argument. Public Access Counselor Cara Smith writes, "any right to privacy of applicants for aldermanic positions, however, does not outweigh the public's legitimate interest in obtaining information regarding the process for filling vacancies in the City Council."

Mayor Daley has sole discretion in filling aldermanic vacancies. There are currently two positions open, the 1st and 29th Wards.

Twenty-ninth Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers lost his job when he plead guilty to corruption charges. First Ward Alderman Manny Flores resigned his position to head the Illinois Commerce Commission.

In February, Mayor Daley took the unusual step of posting the aldermanic vacancies on the city's website and announcing he would accept applications from the public.

In response to the ruling, the city's law department spokesperson said it will turn over the application material next week.