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The attorney general says the city has broken the law by closing public records of complaints of racism and harassment

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The city of Chicago has broken the law by denying CBS 2 a request for racism and discrimination among urban workers.

This assessment was made by the Attorney General of Illinois in a rare mandatory report published last week.

In other words, the city must publish the records, otherwise they face punishment.

Morning Insider Tim McNichalas took us in search of answers.

Mayor Laurie Lightfoot advocated for transparency under the slogan “Announce the Light”.

In fact, she said the victory would give her a mandate to clean up what she called a “broken and corrupt political machine” in City Hall.

Lightfoot promised to make city officials “much more transparent and accountable for sure.”

But most of his time in office, City Hall has struggled with a request for CBS 2’s public records of “any complaints of racism, harassment or discrimination” at the Department of Streets and Sanitation at 34th Street and Londale Avenue.

Our search for information began back in 2020, when a black garbage truck driver named Heidi McGee received a text from a white supervisor with the word N, which infuriated McGee and her husband, who also works on the streets and sanitation.

“I think other people have similar stories. I really do, ”Heidi McGee said.

“There’s a culture of things like this happening to us as well as others, and definitely worse,” Martel McGee said.

For a year and a half, the city has been refusing to answer questions or comply with requests for government records through the Freedom of Information Act. Although the FOIA request concerns the Department of Streets and Sanitation, human resources deal with it.

“This is a particularly egregious violation,” said public records lawyer Matt Topic, who said the city’s refusal to provide the requested records violated state law.

“The city’s position was unfounded, and this is particularly important information under the Freedom of Information Act, to which the public can have access,” he said.

As it turned out, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raul’s office agrees. At the request of CBS 2, the public prosecutor’s adviser on public access issued a mandatory report – which occurs only about 10 times a year – that the city had “violated the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.”

Such an opinion is subject to execution in court.

“I think it’s very encouraging. It’s a signal that this is very important information, and that the city’s position was particularly unfounded,” said Topik.

The mandatory opinion states that the records contain “many general descriptions of alleged discrimination by city employees during work.”

The city said it could not publish complaints due to staff privacy issues, but the Attorney General’s Office said the city should release the records immediately.

We turned to the city to ask if they plan to finally obey the law. A statement from the city said: “The personnel department receives an opinion, evaluates it and identifies possible next steps.”

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