Aug. 12, 2014

Mary Frances O’Connor: (312) 821-9026
Robert Herguth: (312) 821-9030

CHICAGO—The Better Government Association recently sued the Emanuel administration for refusing to release the content of emails between top mayoral aides as they dealt with media fallout from the accidental deaths of dogs at the city’s taxpayer-supported pound.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 4 in Cook County Circuit Court, follows another lawsuit filed by the BGA in June against city government for refusing to release surveillance video of a city employee allegedly choking a dog to death while trying to bring it under control.

Both suits claim the Emanuel administration’s Animal Care and Control agency violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the state law that guarantees public access to government records, including emails and video.

The BGA sought copies of emails from city officials earlier this year, focusing on the period the BGA and WBBM-AM were reporting about accidental animal deaths.

The city turned over copies of emails that were so heavily redacted, entire correspondences were sometimes blacked out, including the subject line. The BGA’s latest lawsuit asks the city to “produce unredacted copies of emails that appear to involve efforts by high-ranking City employees to ‘spin’ a negative news story about the deaths of two dogs in the City’s care.”

BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw said: “City officials can’t pick and choose what to release to the public or the press. They work for us, not the other way around. And state law is clear: We’re entitled to see how government is operating – and that means emails, and that means video.”

Shaw added, “What are they trying to hide?”

The lawsuits follow months of BGA research on Animal Care and Control.

Recent news reports by WBBM-AM revealed appalling response times when it came to allegations that pets were being mistreated.

The BGA also recently revealed that the No. 2 administrator at Animal Care and Control was hired by the Emanuel administration even though he had no animal welfare experience, and a history of disciplinary problems in a previous city job.

For years the agency has been targeted in the press and by the city’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, for poor management and patronage hiring, among other things.

The BGA’s lawsuits aim to bring greater transparency to Animal Care and Control.

For more on the BGA’s legal actions, please see:

The Better Government Association is a Chicago-based nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the public to achieve authentic and responsible reform.