A Senate committee earlier this week approved a plan that would
exempt performance evaluations for all public employees from
Illinois' recently expanded freedom of information law.
The FOIA law gained strength and teeth on Jan. 1 and has been under
assault since then.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, is shepherding HB 5154
through the General Assembly.
She said teachers unions and labor groups that represent state
workers want to make sure only employees and supervisors can read
the results of an employee evaluation.
Tim Drea with the Illinois AFL-CIO said if performance reviews are
public, then those evaluations may become worthless.
"It does not contribute to a healthy work environment. ... It's just like
pushing people to the side and saying, 'I don't want any grief so I'm
going to give you excellent, excellent, excellent on your
evaluation' and move on."
But Melissa Hahn, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters
Association, said that's not the problem. She said performance
evaluations can be used to protect favored workers or punish workers
who toe the line. And Hahn said by keeping those evaluations secret,
taxpayers will never know the difference.
"This is usually used as a way to root out corruption, and it's a
way for journalists and the public to try to find some sort of
evidence of that," Hahn said. "It's not like people are showing up
in droves to see everyone's performance evaluation."
But state Sen. Maggie Crotty, D-Chicago, acknowledges that's a
common fear around the statehouse.
"This isn't just the press that gets this information. ... The person
who's getting evaluated, their colleague (can also read it). So I
think it'd be a disservice to the whole evaluation process."
HB 5154 is not the first rollback of the new FOIA law. Lawmakers
approved a similar carve-out for teachers and principals as part of
a deal with teachers unions for the federal Race to the Top
education funding program. Illinois never received any Race to the
Top money, but lawmakers made the FOIA change anyway.
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Sharon Voliva with the Illinois Federation of Teachers said the
union now wants to make sure all other public employees are on even
footing with the teachers.
"We are trying to narrow that much in scope to protect performance
evaluations," Voliva said. "As to how much broader that could go, I
don't know without a ruling from the atorney general's office."
That's what Hahn fears. She said it took Illinois a long time to
expand the freedom of information law, but it's taken very little
time to roll it back.
"These lawmakers who voted for opening the freedom of information
act and the governor who signed it are now starting to chip away at
that very freedom of information act," Hahn said. "So basically, we
gained a lot last year ... and now we're losing it."
The legislation is now headed for a vote in the full Senate. It has
already passed the House.
On the Net:
Statehouse News; By BENJAMIN YOUNT]