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SUBSCRIPT: Rahm touts his version of 'transparency' while allowing Chicago Public Schools financial information to get murkier and murkier

Hardly a day goes by in Chicago when the media do not receive another announcement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's enormous press team that another example of what they call "transparency" has just happened. The latest (see the announcement below) came on August 3, 2011, when a press release announced that the City of Chicago was posting on line records of more than 90,000 contracts.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announcing Chicago Ideas Week at 600 W. Chicago on August 3, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.But as reporters learned (again) at Rahm's August 2, 2011, media event at St. Sabina's, the policy of "transparency" doesn't apply to the work of Chicago Public Schools and the activities of schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard. During the August 2 press conference, I asked the mayor why CPS hadn't posted on line a list of its employees (as City Hall had done more than a month ago). The mayor seemed confused (and I didn't get the chance to do a follow up), perhaps believing that CPS was as transparent as the City has been becoming. But if he didn't know, he could have asked.

The CPS Communications Chief, Becky Carroll, tried to claim that CPS had posted its employee list, but gave up on that claim when I told her that I had been to both the City of Chicago Web site and the CPS web site before leaving to cover the story at St. Sabina's, and that there was no Position File or employee listing up at www.cps.edu since November 2010 -- back when Ron Huberman was still "Chief Executive Officer".

Carroll claimed that CPS was posting the information "every three months," but either knew that was not true or realized when I questioned her closely that I knew. "Tell me where I can find it," I asked. She promised to send Substance the URL (she got the card with the Substance email address, Csubstance@aol.com), but hadn't 24 hours later. She did not that the CPS website is a huge mess.

Not only does CPS continue to cover up even its most basic financial information while City Hall is moving to reveal as much public information as possible, but according to Becky Carroll they are planing to continue to cover up the information as the all-important budget hearings loom. CPS is supposed to release its "Proposed Budget for FY 2012" on Friday (August 5, two days from the writing of this story). I asked Carroll whether CPS was going to distribute the books to the aldermanic offices and all public libraries, as CPS had been doing for more than a hundred years prior to the day Ron Huberman became "Chief Executive Officer." She said that the budgets would be "available" at the libraries -- on line.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel arriving at 600 W. Chicago on August 3, 2011, accompanied by media aides and bodyguards. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.When I told her that most of the libraries we checked last year couldn't access the huge PDF files on line, and that no one could afford to pay library copying prices to have a budget to study, she simply repeated the claim about "available." Substance will be surveying the accessibility of the budget information to the real public across Chicago beginning Friday August 5 and Saturday August 6. Apparently CPS continues its policy of making it nearly impossible for the public to actually study the Proposed Budget (which last year ran to almost 2,000 pages, in the book and the CD in the back flap of the book) between the day the budget is released and the day the hearings begin (less than a week after the release).

Below is the announcement about the latest transparency from Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, August 3, 2011. CONTACT: Mayor’s Press Office, 312.744.3334, press@cityofchicago.org

MAYOR EMANUEL CONTINUES COMMITMENT TO TRANSPARENCY, POSTS OVER 90,000 CITY CONTRACTS ONLINE

All City of Chicago contracts since 1993 now available in easy to use format on City’s Data Portal

Mayor Rahm Emanuel today announced that information on over 90,000 city contracts dating as far back as 1993 is now available online in one easy-to-download format on the City’s data portal. This data set release is part of Mayor Emanuel’s ongoing efforts to increase transparency in City government, and is also a step forward in the modernization and efficiency of the City’s contracting system.

“These efforts will increase the openness and efficiency of the City’s contracting process,” said Mayor Emanuel. “By posting this data online in an easy-to-use format, we will be able to increase the transparency of the contracting process and ensure that these contracting processes are conducted in full view of the public.”

Prior to today, contract information was available but difficult to find and not easy to search through or download. In the past, contract information was available only through a specific search on the procurement website or FOIA request, and in all cases the contracts were distributed via email copy or PDF. The data that is now being provided by the City is in an open, searchable, machine-readable format that will greatly reduce the time needed to obtain contracts and positions Chicago as one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to contract transparency.

The Mayor’s Office has released over 170 datasets, including salary information, crime data, lobbyist disclosures, debarred vendors and abandoned buildings.

Since May 16, 2011, the City of Chicago’s open Data Portal has logged more than 305,000 views.

In the coming months, contracting reforms and efficiencies will continue to be implemented to ensure as many tax dollars as possible are saved. This modernization process will reorganize DPS to streamline the business processes, upgrade the IT system and ensure costs are saved through more effective, strategic sourcing.

The contract data that is now available on the data portal will be updated daily.



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