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Peo Ex Rel. Better Broadcasting Council v. Keane

MARCH 14, 1973.

THE PEOPLE EX REL. BETTER BROADCASTING COUNCIL, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,

v.

THOMAS KEANE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. EDWARD F. HEALY, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE DIERINGER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied April 2, 1974.

The plaintiffs, Better Broadcasting Council, Inc., a not-for-profit corporation, and Donald Wheat, a citizen and taxpayer of the City of Chicago, filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Circuit Court of Cook County, seeking to compel the defendants to permit the inspection of records in their custody. The defendants are: Thomas Keane, an alderman of the City of Chicago and Chairman of the Committee on Finance of the City Council; Paul T. Wigoda, an Alderman of the City of Chicago and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Miscellaneous Matters of the Committee on Finance; Charles Berek, Clerk of the City Council of the City of Chicago; William Zoe, Chief Administrative Officer of the Committee on Finance of the City Council; and the City of Chicago, a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of Illinois.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds there was no legal right to the relief sought. The motion to dismiss was granted on a finding that the documents sought were not public records. The plaintiffs appeal from the order dismissing their petition.

The issue on review is whether the financial records sought are public records which must be made available for public inspection.

In 1970, the City Council of the City of Chicago announced its intention to award cable television franchises in Chicago pursuant to Section 11-42-11 of the Municipal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 24, sec. 11-42-11) giving cities the right to award such francises. The Subcommittee on Miscellaneous Matters of the Committee on Finance issued a public notice, inviting those interested in applying for cable television franchises to submit certain documents including a draft ordinance regulating cable television franchises in the City of Chicago, a statement as to how the applicant intended to operate the franchise, and a detailed statement of the applicant's financial situation, including the names of those having a financial interest.

The Better Broadcasting Council made written demands upon the defendants for these documents in letters dated July 22, 1970, and on December 22, 1970, they filed a petition for a writ of mandamus on behalf of themselves and all other persons similarly situated to compel defendants to allow plaintiffs access to all the files concerned with cable TV in the possession of the defendants.

Both William Zoe and Alderman Wigoda wrote letters to Mr. Nicholas Rekas, the president of the Better Broadcasting Council, advising him the cable TV files would be open to his scrutiny during regular business hours.

On January 11, 1971, Rekas appeared at the office of the Committee and was given "what appeared to be the complete applications and the verbatim minutes," and inspected them for several hours. He reappeared on January 15, 1971, and the financial statements were not in the file.

After an interim motion by plaintiffs for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, which were denied by the trial court, defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds the documents were not public records. The court ruled in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiffs appeal from that ruling alleging the defendants have a duty to disclose the documents under the statutory and common law of the State of Illinois. The defendants answer that the documents were disclosed to plaintiffs in the first instance and mandamus is improper.

The issue to be determined, whether the financial records are public records open for public inspection, is a narrow one, but there are broad policy considerations with respect to the operation of the legislative process and a philosophical presumption in favor of full disclosure.

In a democratic society where the government is responsive to the people, it is important that a citizen have access to matters relating to the public's business so he may evaluate the competency of his representatives and cast his vote intelligently.

• 1 The people's right to know, however, must be balanced by the practical necessities of governing. Public officials must be able to gather a maximum of information and discharge their official duties without infringing on rights of privacy. Certain information possessed by government is often supplied by individuals and enterprises that have no strict legal obligation to report but do so on a voluntary basis, with the understanding the information will be treated as confidential. Therefore, it is important to consider whether disclosure would constitute an invasion of privacy; whether there could be prejudice to private rights or give an unfair competitive advantage; whether it would ...


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