Dear Member of the
International Olympic Committee:
David Greising is the business reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He's been growing skeptical of the 2016 Committee's willingness to be honest with the people of Chicago.
Time to hold 2016 Olympics committee's feet to flame on open records
David Greising - August 14, 2009
"This is a good thing for our bid," Pat Ryan was saying the other
night, after Bronzeville neighborhood citizens grilled Olympics
officials for nearly three hours about costs and risks of staging a
A root-canal look on his face, Ryan had sat in
a hot, crowded South Side meeting room as residents raised concerns
about the demolition of historic buildings, travel inconveniences and
access to business opportunities that could accompany a 2016 Games.
Chicago 2016 bid committee has been the most open ever, asserted Ryan,
the chairman. The group that would run the Games -- the Chicago
Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, or OCOG -- will be open to
scrutiny too, Olympics officials have said.
Yet when it comes
to opening their own records to public scrutiny, the way all public
agencies must, the transparency goes dark.
As a private
entity, Chicago 2016 typically would have no obligation to open its
records. But because it will get $750 million in state and city
financial guarantees -- and wants an unlimited city commitment to cover
any major Olympics shortfall -- in exchange it should agree to let
taxpayers know how Olympics money will be spent.
Ryan and his
second-in-command, Lori Healey, felt no obligation to open the Olympic
committee's records. Yet the more they tried to explain their reasoning
the less persuasive it became. Ryan asserted that freedom of
information requests might make it impossible for Chicago 2016 and the
International Olympic Committee to sell sponsorships, the biggest
source of money for any Olympics.
"We're going to be having a
competition for sponsorships, and I hope that you wouldn't request the
information in the FOIA that we reveal what this company is bidding and
what that company is bidding," Ryan said.
freedom of information law specifically protects proprietary business
information. Bids for sponsorships and other contracts would remain
Healey implied that the bid committee is powerless to bind the actual organizing committee to an open-records commitment.
"It's up to the OCOG," she said.
and virtually everyone else on Chicago 2016 are expected to serve on
the Chicago Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, but Healey
makes the two groups sound like foreign entities.
"The OCOG is governed by its own board," she said. "They'll have to make decisions on this."
the bid committee cannot make commitments that bind the OCOG, someone
has a lot of explaining to do. The state and city need to know, because
this puts their $750 million guarantees at risk. Someone tell the
community groups that the fair-contracting agreement hammered out with
dozens of community groups may have no effect on how the OCOG operates.
In fact, someone tell the IOC. They need to know if the bid committee's word is not the OCOG's bond.
Ryan seems not to appreciate is that an open-records policy might help
Chicago's bid. Contracting scandals have ruined past Olympics, and
Chicago's reputation on such matters is hardly pristine.
When Chicago 2016 goes to Copenhagen for the IOC vote Oct. 2, its bid will be stronger with an open-records commitment.
Ryan is a phenomenally successful insurance executive. He knows a deal
breaker when he sees it, and he knows he needs the city's financial
guarantee for the Games or there is no Chicago Olympics.
and Mayor Richard Daley, who want the Olympics so badly, will do about
anything to get that guarantee. And that is why -- in exchange for a
government guarantee in a city and state with a corruption-riddled
track record -- citizens must insist on access to the Olympic
This is called negotiating leverage, and
taxpayers and citizens, in those rare moments when they have leverage,
are fools if they do not use it.
Access to the Olympic
committee's records is within the reach of the people who are being
asked to guarantee the Games. All the City Council has to do -- at
hearings next month -- is ask.