A conservative think tank is seeking copies of employee evaluations for every state worker in Illinois via the Freedom of Information Act. But what the Illinois Policy Institute calls an effort to bring increased transparency to state government, the employees’ primary union blasts as a colossal drain on the state’s already-dwindling resources.
A conservative think tank is seeking copies of employee evaluations for every state worker in Illinois via the Freedom of Information Act.
But what the Illinois Policy Institute calls an effort to bring increased transparency to state government, the employees’ primary union blasts as a colossal drain on the state’s already-dwindling resources.
Legislation blocking such future requests is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The policy institute says it’s gotten mixed reactions in getting agencies to comply.
While some have gone along with the requests, others have argued that copying the paperwork is too time-consuming and a waste of taxpayer money. The expense involved has prompted the institute to abandon some of its requests.
Meanwhile, legislation that would prevent the public from accessing state employee performance reviews has been sent to Gov. Pat Quinn. House Bill 5154 was approved by lawmakers in April.
Bob Reed, communications director for the governor’s office, said this week that Quinn has not yet reviewed the bill with his staff.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents a majority of the unionized state workers, adamantly opposes releasing the information.
Roberta Lynch, deputy director of AFSCME Council 31, called the information requests “an outrageous waste of taxpayer money.”
“We have a direct interest in that our members are struggling every day,” she said. “(They) don’t have the resources to do the jobs they’re assigned to do.”
Lynch also argued that publicizing performance evaluations would “invade the privacy” between supervisors and employees. She said supervisors might be less likely to document a problem if they knew the information would be made public.
“That could be interpreted many ways by a casual reader,” Lynch said.
Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said legislation such as HB 5154 has a “chilling effect” on government-transparency efforts. She said people should not have to pay a hefty price to get public information.
Canary said her organization’s concern is the use of “blanket exemptions” such as the one represented by HB 5154 in an attempt to shield information from public view. Legislation such as this chips away at the state’s new FOIA law that went into effect in January, she said.
Rep. Rich Brauer, R-Petersburg, said that while he believes in transparency, employee performance reviews should be kept private.
“(That’s) taking it too far,” he said of the institute’s FOIA requests.
Brauer, who voted in favor of HB 5154, said it does not chip away at the new FOIA laws, but rather is a “matter of clarification.”
The FOIA requests
Kristina Rasmussen, the Illinois Policy Institute’s executive vice president, said the FOIA requests were filed about two weeks ago. Plans are to post the information online at www.illinoisopengov.org, she said.
“Our intention is not to harass or embarrass any state employee,” Rasmussen said. “We’d like to make sure that public information is accessible.”
Rasmussen said the group wanted to file the FOIA requests before Quinn took action on HB 5154, which the IPI is hoping he’ll veto.
So far, Rasmussen said, agency reaction to the requests has varied.
“Some have come back with significant cost requests, (and) others were flat out denied as (being) unduly burdensome,” she said, adding that the institute has withdrawn some requests because they weren’t “within our budget.”
For instance, the FOIA request to the state Department of Corrections was withdrawn after the institute learned the processing would cost more than $10,000. Corrections spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said it would cost that much to gather and print evaluations for the more than 11,000 employees at the agency.
Rasmussen said the request for Illinois Department of Transportation employee records also was dropped because the $1,500 reproduction cost was deemed to be too expensive.
The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity asked for an extension, she said, because it is moving to another location. The documents should be available by the end of July at a cost of $340, the institute was told.
More reasonable, Rasmussen said, were responses from the Department of Labor and the Department of Human Rights, which quoted processing costs of $48 and $47, respectively.
“Unduly burdensome” is how the Department of Children and Family Services described the institute’s request.
DCFS spokesman Kendall Marlowe said the evaluations for the agency’s 3,000 employees are all on paper. He said photocopying that many evaluations by hand “might not be an appropriate use of taxpayers’ resources.”
Marlowe said they asked the institute to instead accept information from a random sample of 200 employees, an offer that was “happily” accepted.
However, Rasmussen said the random sample missed the point of providing the public with vital information for every worker.
The Department of Employment Security also sought a compromise.
Department spokesman Greg Rivara said the agency was concerned about the time involved in having to redact private information from 1,800 employee reviews. The individual hardcopy reviews varied in length from four to six pages.
Rivara said that while the agency supports transparency efforts, the institute was asked to “narrow their scope” in terms of the request but refused.
“The department fully believes in transparency,” he said. “This is the public’s information.”
John Guidroz can be reached at 217-782-6882.
By the numbers for DOC
11,594 — number of employees at the Department of Corrections
6 — average number of pages for each employee’s evaluation
69,514 — number of pages the Illinois Policy Institute would have to pay for after getting the first 50 pages for free
$10,427.10 — the cost to the institute at 15 cents per page
Source: Sharyn Elman, Corrections spokeswoman
Total state employees
According to Department of Central Management records, there are 48,258 employees under the jurisdiction of the governor and the state’s personnel code. This number includes part time, full time, temporary, emergency, etc.