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Continued Thoughts on this Project
A short post about the United Atheist Alliance vs the Allied Atheist Alliance
FOIA Gras is a free newsletter run by Tom Hayden (FOIA GRAS LLC) that explores various topics in local Evanston Governance, especially around School District 65 (Evanston/Skokie). I publish and share all my data and reports. Subscribing is free, so please subscribe or share!
One of my favorite episodes of South Park is where Cartman travels to the future to retrieve a Nintendo Wii. While there, he encounters a war between the United Atheist Alliance vs the Allied Atheist Alliance. I think about this often in the context of our politics; there is this innate thing in all of us, which causes us to dig in to fight against some “other.”
This is a pretty hard problem for mankind to solve! If you look through history there are all sorts of grand Utopian attempts to solve this problem. They don’t usually work and often end up in brutal violence. Some experiments have had success, though. I think the fundamental liberal values contained in the US Constitution reflect the founders’ lived experiences of 250 years of European religous wars.
This is captured well in Section 1 of the IL FOIA Act.
Sec. 1. Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of government, it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them as public officials and public employees consistent with the terms of this Act. Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.
Transparency means that everyone in power, in their public capacity, has to show their hand. The motivation for this is to convince the political losers that the system is fair and open. It’s the same reason we try to have non-partisan voting operations; it isn’t to celebrate the winners but to convince the losers that the system is legitimate. If you can’t achieve that, you end up with resentment. Without full transparency, that resentment builds into conspiratorial thinking.
The decimation of local news power has uprooted transparency. Twenty years ago, the Chicago Tribune would’ve had a beat reporter sitting at the Board Meetings and the next morning, this would’ve been in everyone’s mailboxes. That’s a level of power that is unparalleled today; sure we have a couple local blogs and there are some citizen journalists. Month-to-month, it’s pretty much just me, Larry Gavin at Evanston Roundtable, and some guy named burner.mcanonymous submitting FOIA requests. If you’re in a position of political power now, why even bother with transparency?
So when I think back to what this project is - my goals are not to weaponize FOIA to achieve a political goal.
In fact, within the context of Evanston, I want everyone to succeed. In the context of the School Board or local City Council, I want Dr. Horton to be successful. I want Mayor Biss to be successful. I want the District 65 Board to be successful. I want to see a world where Evanston can be the leader in equity and move the needle on closing the gap in student performance. I live here because of this!
So here are the ground rules I’m setting for this project going forward:
Transparency and transparency advocacy is the prime objective.
I’m going to have an opinion on stories, it’s literally impossible for me to write something without injecting my own opinions. But I will be transparent about when I am sharing an opinion.
Anyone who is elected or appointed is subject to critique. This includes the School Board, the City Council, and executive positions such as Superintendent or Mayor. Non-elected or staff members are not subject to critique and should be left out unless there is a major story.
The organization (as a whole) is subject to criticism.
All criticism must be evidence based and I am required to share that evidence with my readers.
I’m going to avoid open-ended questions like I did in this article: PTA Equity Fund. If I think there is a conflict of interest, I am going to do a better job about stating specifically what it is instead of throwing out rhetorical questions.
I’m going to start interviewing more people. I’ve already emailed District 65 at least one story I am working on. This is a really hard part of journalism!
As always, thanks for being a subscriber. Tell your friends. More to come.