The Coalition To Save Jackson Park (CTSJP) filed a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Chicago Park District Tuesday, seeking withheld records regarding the Obama Presidential Center proposed for construction in Jackson Park. Filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the South Side community group’s lawsuit claims that the Park District has willfully and intentionally violated the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. It also seeks information about the extent of the Mayor’s Office’s involvement in this violation. Documents previously obtained by CTSJP show that the Mayor’s Office is coordinating city department responses to FOIA requests related to the Obama Center. “Since CTSJP’s November FOIA request, the Park District has released only a tiny fraction of Obama Center records in its possession, denying the public the opportunity for transparency where it is sorely needed,” states Daniel Massoglia, an attorney for the group. “This is a pressing public issue and city government is letting the people down.”
“The press and the public have a right to know what decisions are being made behind closed doors,” adds Gabriel Piemonte, a Coalition member. CTSJP’s FOIA request seeks emails and other documents from the Chicago Park District related to the decision to offer public park land for private development, plans to close Marquette and Cornell Drives, proposed changes to Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, and the environmental impact of building the Center on Jackson Park’s Cold War-era contaminated soil. A previous CTSJP FOIA request to the Mayor’s Office was denied as “unduly burdensome.” In addition, while the city estimates costs of $100 million to widen Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, “the price tag is likely much higher,” Piemonte says, and taxpayers must pay; the Obama Foundation refuses to. The city has not released costs for closing Cornell and Marquette Drives or for infrastructure changes in the residential area lining Jackson Park. “City residents already face a huge tax burden,” said Piemonte. “Hundreds of millions of additional tax dollars may be needed for this construction, and the city is not being transparent.”
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