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Chicago planning for world summits is mostly secret


This news story was published on January 17, 2012.
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By Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — The business group appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to oversee the Group of 8 and NATO summits is accelerating planning and fundraising for the May meetings, but will continue to do much of its work in private.

The mayor and his administration have said relatively little about the city’s plans for hosting the meetings, pushing questions — and responsibility — to World Business Chicago, the group of business leaders that Emanuel chairs

The nonprofit group operates behind closed doors—a policy recently reaffirmed in its updated transparency policy—and the host committee for the summits was created under its umbrella.

The lack of disclosure has carried over to the early planning for the summits. The only publicly announced member of the host committee, executive director Lori Healey, offered the first details of the summit planning last week in estimating the total cost at $40 million to $65 million for the overlapping meetings May 19-21.

A key role of World Business Chicago is private fundraising to defray the city’s costs in putting on the summits, but Healey said Monday that it is too early to say how much the donations will cover and how much the federal government will provide in reimbursement.

“It’s way too preliminary at this point,” Healey said, adding that no social-event locations or hotels have been chosen. She declined to speculate on what would happen if costs covered by private donations were later reimbursed by the U.S. government.

“The worst thing we can do is have misinformation,” Healey said.

Security is up to the U.S. Secret Service, she said, and the expectation is that some of the costs would be reimbursed by the federal government. The Secret Service will plan around where leaders are staying, their travel routes and other variables, and arrangements may not be final until the summits are just weeks away.

The host committee isalso expected to work with the White House, the State Department and City Hall.

Healey said more information on planning for the summits will be made available when the host committee holds briefings at the end of January. Part of what will be announced is the makeup of the committee itself, she said.

The groups’s board is set to meet April 17, about a month before the events draw global attention to the city. The executive session will be behind closed doors. The board plans to hold a public briefing for the media after conducting its business, spokesman Bill Strong said.

The group, which bills itself as the city’s economic development arm and includes some of the mayor’s top political donors, had weighed opening at least part of its meetings to the public amid questions from the Tribune about Emanuel’s commitment to transparency.

“The meeting structure we adopted is an efficient way to balance the need for both transparency and confidentiality,” Emanuel ally Michael Sacks, vice chairman of World Business Chicago, wrote in an email.

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