Dear Ms. True:
As chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley, I read your cover article about information policies under the Daley administration [May 5] with amazement and dismay. The article contained startling errors, omissions, and mistaken assumptions. I’d like to set the record straight on a number of counts.
About Mayor Daley’s commitment to open government: Anyone who works closely with this mayor quickly comes to appreciate his abiding respect for the people of Chicago. He doesn’t suggest, he insists that city government be as open and accountable to them as possible, and that mandate is reflected in our public information policies.
About Jim Williams’s role as mayoral press secretary: As press secretary, Jim Williams is responsible for keeping the lines of communication open between the press and the Daley administration. A respected member of the mayor’s “inner circle” of advisors, he shares and weighs input from other city officials on critical press matters. But contrary to the assertions of Tumia Romero, a former employee whose disputes with colleagues hastened her departure, final decisions on press issues are made by Jim and the mayor–period.
About community access to information: The article implied that the mayor’s press office controls (or seeks to control) the dissemination of information to community groups. That assumption is incorrect. The press office oversees press, not community outreach. Had your reporter done a little research at City Hall, he would have discovered some very effective avenues for outreach and communication between city government and the people we serve.
The most important of these is the Mayor’s Office of Inquiry and Information. Its bilingual staff mans phone lines 24 hours a day, relaying questions and requests from Chicago residents to over 40 different city departments. In fact, last year nearly three million calls for service and information were responded to by the city.
Second, the administration sponsors open community meetings twice a year in each of Chicago’s 50 wards. Representatives from city departments attend all 100 of these meetings, ready and willing to answer questions, take service requests, and listen to complaints from Chicagoans. Third, each year when we prepare the annual budget, we hold open meetings throughout the city specifically to get input from the people of Chicago on how we should spend their tax dollars. When the final budget is approved, copies are available to the public at branch libraries.
Finally, the city of Chicago has installed computer kiosks at convenient locations to provide information on services and special events, and created an Internet access addressing the same subjects. The bottom line is that we are constantly looking for new ways to reach out and serve the people of Chicago better.
These important communication tools underscore Mayor Daley’s commitment to open government. By excluding them from an article ostensibly all about communication, Neal Pollack has done your Chicago readers, and their mayor, a grave disservice.
About Freedom of Information requests: The city of Chicago receives between 16,000 and 21,000 requests each year under the Freedom of Information Act. Every effort is made to respond to them in a timely manner, though we occasionally deny requests for information that is exempt from the law, such as confidential data from employee personnel files and internal memos on the formulation of policy. Although the act allows for court appeals when information is denied, less than half a dozen lawsuits have been filed on those grounds since Mayor Daley took office six years ago.
About the Municipal Reference Library: The information on city government and history once housed in the Municipal Reference Library has been moved to a new location at the Harold Washington Library to make it more accessible to citizens. It has not been irretrievably lost, as indicated in the article.
In closing, I would like to suggest that the careless, incomplete reporting behind this article is unworthy of the Reader. I hope you’ll insist on more balanced and thorough coverage in the future.
Gery J. Chico
Chief of Staff
Neal Pollack replies:
I did mention early in the article that the city has established a new Internet access service concerning city services and the municipal budget. I even went so far as to call this information “useful.” I never said that the press office controls the dissemination of information to community groups. I did argue that it controls the city’s public information officers, who play a large part in what information citizens receive.