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Cook County treasurer presses Southland governments for debt data

Monday, May 14, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas is trying to determine the collective debt of the county’s 553 government bodies, but more than 30 Southland villages, park districts, library districts and others are among those that so far have not cooperated, Pappas’ office said Monday in a news release.

To rectify that, her office is sending them Freedom of Information Act requests, usually used by citizens or media, rather than by another governmental body, when public information is withheld.

“We are taking this extraordinary step of using the FOIA provision because government may not flout the law any more than an individual,” Pappas said in the release. “If anything, government should set the example in obeying the law.”

Under a law passed by the Cook County board, local taxing districts should have uploaded their 2011 debt and other financial data to Pappas’ website by Dec. 27, the release said. To date, 63 had not, the release said. Under FOIA laws, the governments have five business days to respond.

Pappas recently said the total known debt of local governments in Cook County has reached $140 billion, or $35,774 per suburban household.

“As a matter of transparency and as a matter of law, these noncompliant agencies should send us their data so that the people can see how much their local governments owe, and we all can see the total debt across Cook County,” Pappas said in the release.

Failure of a taxing district to respond appropriately to a FOIA request would be regarded as a denial, which could result in civil suits against the district and make it liable for legal fees and civil penalties up to $5,000, the release said.

The following Southland taxing districts received FOIA requests for noncompliance, according to the release:

Chicago Heights Park District, city of Burbank, Crawford Countryside Sanitary District (Matteson), Dixmoor Public Library District, Dolton Public Library District, Ford Heights Public Library District, Harvey Public Library District, Hometown Fire Protection District, Justice Park District, Kimber Trail Sanitary District (Palos Park), Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210, Markham Park District, Miller Woods Fire Protection District (Steger), Posen Park District, Posen Public Library District, Riverdale Park District, Robbins Park District, Roberts Park Fire Protection District (Hickory Hills/Justice), South Palos Township Sanitary District (Palos Park), South Stickney Sanitary District (Burbank), School District 149 (Dolton/Calumet City), Sunnycrest Fire Protection District (Flossmoor), Thornton Township High School District 205, village of South Chicago Heights, village of Merrionette Park, village of Calumet Park, village of Dixmoor, village of East Hazelcrest, village of Evergreen Park, village of Ford Heights, village of Robbins, Sauk Village, village of University Park.

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