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'Transparent' government anything but

Sunday, April 27, 2008
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: Cook County Board President Todd Strogerhas had all of his employees sign a lifetime confidentiality pact prohibiting them from speaking about anything "learned, disclosed or observed" while on the job.

WE SAY: Can you say paranoid? Stroger promised he would establish a "transparent" government when he was elected. Guess his definition of transparent is different than ours.

If you take a job in the fiefdom of Todd Stroger, you'd better be prepared to keep your mouth shut - forever.Apparently, there are many "confidential" matters under discussion in the hallowed halls of Cook County government, and they must be kept under lock and key. Whisper just one secret into the ear of a spouse or a pal or somebody you meet at a bar, and consider your goose cooked.

Or so deemeth Lord Stroger, the feudal overseer o' the county board and all things Cook. If you choose to join the board president's camp as a paid minion, be prepared to sign away your First Amendment free speech rights via a confidentiality agreement that swears you to never disclose anything "learned, disclosed or observed" while on the job.

Hmmm, that covers a lot of ground. If someone asks you for directions to the rest room, do you dare tell them? If you forget yourself and tell a lawyer what time the board meeting starts, should you start packing your stuff? If, gasp, a reporter asks you to see a copy of the county budget or to explain the meaning of a new ordinance or to disclose how a new program will benefit residents, will you mutter "no comment" and scurry off to your office?

OK, Stroger may not haul you to court for that kind of thing. He's probably more worried about you making it easy for folks to find out about the raise his cousin, er, county chief financial officer, is going to get or the tax hike he's going to propose or how he's going to arrange for an aide to call a radio show under a fictitious name so he can lob Stroger a softball question.

And not only are employees prohibited from speaking during the course of their tenure - or even Stroger's tenure - but until they depart this mortal plain. Guess we won't be getting much insight into Stroger's leadership style or keen political mind from those who witness this golden age of Cook County government.

So much for the "transparent" government Stroger promised us less than two years ago.

This all reminds us a bit of mafia tactics. Which leaves us with just one question: Will this pact hold up under subpoena or grand jury questioning?

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