Tourism board should open its books

May 26, 2019

Any nonprofit agency that gets the majority of its money from the government should open its books to the public.

Under Illinois law, there is no such requirement. But it’s only common sense. If an agency is largely in operation because of taxpayer dollars, it should let the public know how it is spending its money.

Unfortunately, the first instinct of the Kankakee County Convention & Visitors Bureau was to resist releasing its general ledger and list of vendors to the village of Bradley, which it has been requesting it since April.

This is especially surprising given that the majority of the hotel taxes that fund the bureau come from hotels in Bradley. If the village pulled its tax dollars from the tourism agency, that would sharply curtail promotion of local tourism, hurting our greater community.

The bureau’s justification for secrecy was that disclosure would affect the privacy of its vendors and employees and put the agency at a “competitive disadvantage” with others.

This reasoning is ironic in light of the bureau’s years-long effort to gain eligibility for its employees to join a government pension system. It apparently wants to enjoy the benefits of government, but not endure its requirements of accountability.

Fortunately, the bureau has belatedly recognized it had better disclose its finances to Bradley. In a statement this week, the agency said it would release the records to the village administrator, but that it hoped the information would “not be used in a manner that would be detrimental” to local tourism promotion.

If the village discloses the information to the public — as it must — that will not be detrimental. It will be the right thing to do.

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