Editorial: Hynes should explain actions regarding IFDA

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes has built a refreshing reputation in the last six years as an advocate of open government and truth in budgeting. He posts all kinds of documents to his Web site, making it easier to see what his office and state government are doing. And his office has volunteered information regarding the troubled Illinois Funeral Directors Association pre-need trust fund.

While we appreciate Hynes’ help with our IFDA stories to date, as a newspaper we cannot just depend on documents he volunteers. That’s why we have filed a Freedom of Information Act request for other key documents related to the IFDA. His refusal to fulfill that FOIA request is an unfortunate deviation from his record on open government.

Hynes needs to further explain his agency’s actions regarding the fund and rethink his decision not to produce the documents.

State Journal-Register reporter Bruce Rushton attempted to get copies of all audits and financial reviews of the trust, which exists so that people could ensure the money was there for their funeral when the time came. The newspaper’s original request was rejected, as was a subsequent appeal.

Muddling this situation are the various statements by the comptroller on why the records are not public.

The original, written rejections of the newspaper’s requests stretched exceptions to the state’s open records law. Some state lawmakers agree and have called for Hynes to release the records.

Hynes’ lawyer cited an exemption for “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are formulated.”

These seemed like a stretch to us and also to FOIA expert Don Craven, an attorney who often handles public access cases, including ones for this newspaper.

“It’s an audit,” Craven said last week. “It’s final. It’s over. We’re not formulating policy. It’s not pre-decisional in any manner.”

Craven also rejected another Hynes argument — that he must reject the SJ-R’s request because the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is involved in the issue and may want to exercise an exemption.

“If you ask Agency One for records, they’re not exempt because Agency Two has an interest,” Craven said.

We have also requested records from DFPR; a month later, it has still not yet responded to our request. We strongly urge the agency to fulfill our request.

Then on Thursday, Hynes switched gears and cited an “ongoing investigation” as the reason records could not be released.

Also puzzling was the contention by the comptroller’s office in his written rejection of our FOIA request that it does not audit the pre-need trust, yet other documents refer to audit findings.

If the comptroller is worried that the release of information could interfere with an ongoing probe, FOIA allows him to black out sensitive information. We suggest he do so, but it still seems to us like a completed audit should be subject to public scrutiny.

The bottom line is that Hynes needs to talk more about what his office has done to keep the $300 million trust from imploding and back it up with facts.

State Journal-Register