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Rahm Emanuel Withholds Records on Possible Involvement in Chicago School Contract Scandal

Last week, a former Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO was indicted on charges that she took bribes while steering up to $23 million in no-bid contracts to a consulting firm she once worked for, and some wonder if Rahm Emanuel’s office had a hand in that scandal. But the mayor’s office is blocking the release of records that could shed light on that relationship.

On Thursday, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett, an appointee of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, was served a 23-count indictment charging that she steered sweetheart deals to her former employer, SUPES Academy.

One of the contracts that went to SUPES gave them a $20.5 million no-bid contract to provide leadership training for Chicago Public Schools’ principals. Rahm Emanuel has in the past said that he and his office had no part in the award of this huge contract to Byrd-Bennett’s former employer. In April, Emanuel told the media, “No, you obviously know that by all the information available. And so the answer to that is no.”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, ever since the scandal broke, the mayor’s office has worked to stymie requests for documents covering the period of time when the contract was awarded.

“The Emanuel administration has declined to provide about half of the roughly 1,000 emails requested,” the paper reported on Monday.” As part of that fight, in June, the Tribune sued the city under the state Freedom of Information Act after the mayor’s office redacted or withheld about two dozen emails emanating from Emanuel’s office.”

The paper charges that Rahm Emanuel has redacted or withheld communications between his staff, the CPS, and principals at SUPES Academy, covering dates ahead of meetings between the group in May and June prior to the vote to award the contract.

The service that SUPES was to provide formed an important part of Emanuel’s education initiative, but Emanuel’s office has refused to supply pages of communications between his aides and the other agencies as the programs were planned and the money was being allocated.

“The mayor’s office has declined to release what emails it has in its possession from this chain,” the paper reports, “stating those emails are covered by an exemption in the state law for ‘preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, memoranda and other records in which opinions are expressed, or policies or actions are formulated.'”

Emanuel’s office added that the reason some of the emails were withheld is that there was information of a “personal nature” contained in the communications.

At a press conference on Monday, Emanuel insisted that his office was one of those early to flag the possibly corrupt nature of the Byrd-Bennett’s deal. The mayor even insisted that his office “did the right thing” about the alleged crime.

Insisting that his office doesn’t “get involved in contracts,” Emanuel defended the actions of his office.

“There’s no doubt in selecting her–in that level, I played a role. But, this was Barbara herself with individuals named from SUPES. They concocted this. And in fact, my staff did the right thing by asking hard questions and directing those questions to the people who were trying to pursue that contract… They were acting appropriately as a stop-gap,” Rahm Emanuel insisted.

This news comes after administrators of the Chicago Public Schools were forced to lower the last four years worth of graduation rates after admitting they inflated the passing rates and fudged the number of dropouts.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston, or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.

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