Dear Member of the
International Olympic Committee:
The Mayor and the 2016 Committee continue to be criticized by the business press. David Greising is the business reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
Public on hook deserves look into Chicago's Olympics bid
David Greising - Chicago Tribune - August 11, 2009
For Chicago 2016, the Olympic organizing committee, the long march through Chicago's 50 wards is nearly done.
The community meetings that wrap up this month have been arduous. Yet
the Chicago committee has endured, knowing its leaders, in cooperation
with Mayor Richard Daley, will reign as near-sovereigns over Chicago
for the next seven years -- building stadiums and housing complexes,
controlling park land and transportation routes -- should the city host
the 2016 Games.
None of it will happen, of course, unless the City Council commits
taxpayers to an unlimited financial guarantee that the Games will
succeed. Daley and Chicago 2016 Chairman Patrick Ryan have said as much.
All of which raises an age-old Chicago question: "Where's ours?"
If Chicago's taxpayers are to offer an indispensable guarantee, they
should get more than the world's biggest swim and track meet. They
should get, in fact, a tool that will provide a close-up view into the
wheeling, the dealing, the high jinks and palm greasing that will make
the 2016 Games uniquely Chicago.
In other words, the City Council should insist -- and Chicago 2016
should agree -- that the organizing committee become subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
The law requires government entities to provide information of public
interest about how they operate. Now, Chicago 2016 is not a public
entity. If a nosy person should ask, say, what's up with the awarding
of a contract, or about how a certain road got rerouted, or how a
lakefront harbor became an Olympic rowing venue, Chicago 2016 could
tell them to just buzz off. That's private business.
Not anymore. Chicago 2016's demand that it needs an unlimited financial
guarantee, not to mention $500 million from the city and $250 million
from the state, makes organizing a Chicago Olympics a very public
The City Council, before granting the unlimited financial guarantee,
should demand that Chicago 2016 agree to honor requests for
information, following the same openness guidelines as described in Illinois' freedom of information law.
The committee should appoint a freedom-of-information officer,
answerable to the City Council and responsible for complying with
information requests, as government offices do.
Just last week, Tribune reporters Todd Lighty, David Heinzmann and
Kathy Bergen showed what public information requests -- part of their
research -- can yield. In revealing that bid committee member and Chicago Board of Education President
Michael Scott Sr. has set up a real estate deal that could benefit him
if the Games go on, the Tribune reminded Chicagoans -- yet again --
that Chicago is the city that works, too often, for the clique that
Why would Chicagoans need the power of the Freedom of Information Act?
The answer is simple: Today, Chicago 2016 needs us. They need the citizens' financial backing or the International Olympic Committee will not designate Chicago as host city over Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid.
Once Chicago gets the Games, though, the power equation reverses. For
the next seven years, the Chicago organizing committee becomes the most
powerful entity in town. Its needs will trump virtually anything else
on the civic landscape. The Chicago Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games -- COCOG, get used to those initials -- will be answerable to Daley and no one else.
Last month, Chicago 2016 tipped its hand toward the sort of imperious
behavior that could become common without appropriate checks. It
delayed, until after the Oct. 2 IOC vote, the filing of IRS forms disclosing plans for funding the Games. So much for openness and the timely release of information.
To some skeptics, this might seem like a far-out request. There is no
way Chicago 2016 can commit to public disclosure, some might say.
Unprecedented, others may argue.
Under pressure early this year to demonstrate public support to the
IOC, the Chicago bid committee voluntarily succumbed to community
demands for openness in the awarding of Olympics contracts.
Subjecting itself to freedom-of-information requirements would take the
committee just a half-step further. It also would comply with the
spirit of the Illinois law, which treats contractors serving a
government function as if they are the government itself.
In response to my request for its thinking on the topic, Chicago 2016
issued a statement with the expected boilerplate about being a private
entity, the community meetings and its agreement to competitive bidding
on contracts. What the committee did not say is the one sentence it
should have: "Yes, we'll answer the public's questions about how we're
financing and building the Games."
Openness should be the price of putting taxpayers on the hook for the 2016 Games.