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IHSA ducks and hides from taxpayers

Craig Beaudion (left) of Whitney Young Magnet High School celebrates winning an Illinois High School Association championship in boys basketball with teammate Lucas Williamson (right) this month in Peoria. The Better Government Association wants the IHSA to open its financial records to the public. |
Fred Zwicky/Journal Star via AP

When your tax dollars keep an organization in business, you have a right to know how every penny is spent.

Yet some quasi-private organizations, such as the Illinois High School Association and Chicago’s tourism agency, Choose Chicago, do not believe they are accountable to you. Ask to look at their books and they show you the door.

Here’s where the Illinois Supreme Court could do the public a great service, just by explaining how freedom of information is supposed to work in an open society. On Tuesday, the Better Government Association correctly argued before the state’s highest court that the IHSA, as a matter of law and the state constitution, must be required to open its books. The IHSA, said the BGA, “performs a governmental function” that should make it subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

EDITORIAL

The IHSA governs high school sports. It is a not-for-profit organization, but not a charity, that sets rules for participation in high school sports and penalizes schools and athletes that break its rules.

About 85 percent of the IHSA’s nearly 800 members are public high schools. The association runs state playoffs and some high school championships at public schools and other public venues. Without public schools, the IHSA would not exist.

In making a case to the court that the IHSA should be subject to public information requests, even when it comes to private sponsorships with companies such as Gatorade, BGA lawyer Matt Topic argued that the IHSA has “the ability to make money from things that are paid for with tax dollars.”

“It’s these schools that are fielding those teams,” Topic said. “It’s the schools that paying for uniforms. It’s the schools that are paying for coaches.”

And who foots the bills for the public schools? You, the taxpayer.

The IHSA wants to keep private its financial records even though, according to its web site, its mission is to promote participation in activities “in an educational setting which provide enrichment to the educational experience.” It’s all about the schools.

Two other quasi-private organizations that hide their finances, though they are largely bankrolled by taxpayers, are Choose Chicago and Navy Pier Inc. How public in reality is Choose Chicago? Mayor Rahm Emanuel created the agency in 2012.

As for Navy Pier Inc., it calls Navy Pier the “people’s pier.” And it is entirely dependent on taxpayer dough. But it refuses to comply with information requests for salaries, benefits, perks and leases.

How can you, the taxpayer, know whether you’re getting a fair shake? How do you to know that big Ferris Wheel is not the only ride they’re taking you on?

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