Illinois government corruption
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The superintendent and board president of Warren Township High School might look into legal action against a man who they say made "unflattering comments" about them at a recent public meeting.
Superintendent Phil Sobocinski and board President John Anderson said will look into whether the Tuesday meeting's confrontation included defamation when a retired instructor gave a 3-minute spiel. Retired Warren instructor Rick Bryan included words such as "cheating," "deception" and "illegal" in his speech.
Bryan was bringing up a controversy involving the school requiring juniors to meet tougher academic standards before taking an annual achievement test.
Sobocinski plans to consult an attorney about whether to seek legal action against the public meeting commenter. A First Amendment lawyer, Donald Craven, doubts he would get far in the process. Craven said under a state law, the public has more leeway when speaking at government meetings.
It was found that many Aldermen had used taxpayer funds to not only gas up their cars, not disclosing whether the gas was used for business or pleasure, but also leased high end cars using taxpayer dollars. One Alderman, Bernie Stone, leased a 2007 Lexus costing the taxpayers over $10,000 a month.
SB 2270 is sponsored by Daniel Cronin, Kirk Dillard, Chris Lauzen, and John Millner in the Senate. It is sponsored by Sandra M. Pihos, Patricia R. Bellock, Sandy Cole, Renée Kosel, Jack D. Franks, Keith Farnham and Linda Chapa LaVia in the House. The bill will require every school district to post on its website a “compensation report” for all administrative officials in the district, including salaries, benefits, pension contributions and bonuses.
The 3% is listed in the fine print at the bottom of the charity payroll deduction form. When county Commssioner Forrest Claypool learned of the practice, he declared it "incredibly deceitful and arrogant," going on to explain, "The notion is: Employees get to direct where their hard-earned dollars go. Todd Stroger should make donations to his charity and let the employees make donations to the charity they want, rather than forcing them to make donations where they might not want their hard-earned money to go."
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the 76 page FBI affidavit charges Blagojevich and Harris with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and solicitation of bribery.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said, "The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering. They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."
The day before his arrest, Blagojevich was joking about being recorded, "I think there’s nothing but sunshine hanging over me." He went on to say, "I appreciate anyone who wants to tape me openly and notoriously. And those who feel that they want to sneakily and wear taping devices, I would remind them that kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate."
Deborah Boyle sued the school district and in April won a seat on the school board. Since joining the board, she has not been allowed to vote on a benefit package for district employees, she has not been assigned to a committee, and she has been banned from some of the board's closed, executive sessions.
The Community High School District 99 board members say they are trying to enforce the nepotism policy because Boyle's brother is a history teacher and head football coach at Downers Grove North High School. The members say they are trying to avoid conflicts of interest for Boyle, spending more than $7,000 on an attorney drafting guidelines.
Some citizens say the board members are behaving young-minded.
"This isn't high school," said Elaine Johnson. "School board members don't get to choose whether or not to accept a duly elected member as part of their group."
Johnson's Downers Grove blog has filled with posts and residents' comments about the issue for weeks.
Several board members tend to be parents so there are questions about the differences in conflicts of interests.
At a board meeting this week, Boyle asked whether District 99 board members who have children in the band should also stay out of voting sessions on band uniforms and whether members with a child in the special education program should not vote on issues related to that program.
She also pointed out that her fellow members accepted campaign donations from teachers unions, but then voted on teachers' contracts. Boyle said it is obvious the measures are directed at her.
"You don't need to like me, but we have to respect each other," said Boyle.
Members responded, saying the district has had an anti-nepotism policy since 1976.
"She has a right to run, but there are issues she can't vote on," said school board president Julia Beckman. "You can't have a brother, sister or husband employed by the district and then vote on how much they make."
The Illinois State’s Attorneys Association and the Illinois Municipal League are also pushing for changes. They are all worried about excessive access to public records that would produce a need to hire more people to attend to the records retrieval and would result in having to fire someone else in the state's payroll.
The organizations "would scuttle provisions" for a counselor assigned to records access disputes and would have subpoena power. The counselor would issue decisions infallible except by a judge. Those opposing the amendment bill think that it's going to cause more trouble for the state.
Prosecutors and the municipal league officials say the bill on the governor’s desk would give too much power to one person in addition to making too much work for the receivers of FOIA requests. They oppose criminalizing FOIA violations.
"With this new law, providing paperwork about governments' activities becomes more important than the activities themselves," Frang writes. "It is regrettable that there may be cases where municipalities will be forced to lay off firefighters and police officers so that they can afford more FOIA lawyers and other responders to help comply with this 'primary duty.'"
The state's attorney association is concerned that undercover operatives and informants will be in danger of exposure.
Don Craven is the acting director of the Illinois Press Association and a Springfield lawyer who concentrates on public-records law and he says this claim is nonsense because the bill already has clauses protecting these situations.
The Illinois Municipal League wrote a letter in opposition of the amendment bill, saying the state will have to fire police officers and fire fighters in order to higher clerks to do the Freedom of Information Act processing and lawyers to fight the nuisance requests.
The state's attorneys association also wrote a letter to Quinn saying the bill would threaten the state having confidential informants and undercover officers and violate the privacy of crime victims, but the letter did not support the claims.
The Municipal League's letter tells Quinn that citizens will exploit the first-50-pages-are-free rule by sending in requests for 50 pages or less to receive the information they seek. It stated that "FOIA is often used as a political tool not to gather information but to harass and harangue public officials."
"There are questions as to whether the FOIA officer is a de jure or de facto officer, which may trigger issues with appointment procedures and with restrictions on holding multiple offices," the letter says. "There are also potential collective bargaining issues at play."
When the Department of Community Development (DCD) spokesperson Susan Massel said, "We believe we've done a good job of meeting the requirements of the ordinance."
The DCD website provides a series of PDF documents in the TIF section that must be downloaded in order to be searched.
The "TIF District Overviews" provides a set of links to seven regions: North, Northwest, West, Southwest, South, Far South, and Central. The "TIF Annual Reports" link provides only six groupings of TIF districts: Central Area, North Side, Northwest Side, South Side, Southwest Side, West Side. Five new TIF districts, all designated in 2009, are not provided on the site, making it difficult to have an accurate count of TIF districts.
Comparing the site to the original legislation, the site does not fulfill the requirements because only the most recent annual reports for TIFs designated after July 30, 2004 are published when the ordinance called for all to be published. Also, many of the links are broken in addition to the five missing TIFs passed in 2009.
Massel called the website "a work in progress," though the deadline has passed.
This Senate Bill that has been passed on to the Governor as of June 26, 2009, amends the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act. It requires that an applicant (for gubernatorial appointment to boards, commissions, authorities, and task forces) must provide specified documents to the Governor's Office of Boards and Commissions, the Office must hold a public hearing before appointing or nominating an applicant, the Office must provide to the Senate specific information on all applicants nominated for Senate confirmation, and the Office must post specified information on its website about appointment requirements, applicants, and appointees.
The bill requires all applicants and appointees to file statements of economic interests. As of now, only nominees for and appointees to positions requiring Senate confirmation must file statements. These changes would be effective immediately.
The Better Government Association submitted a FOIA request to Cook County in May 2009, requesting copies of County Board President Todd Stroger's cell phone records, as well as those of his cousin and former CFO Donna Dunnings, former employee Tony Cole and Communications Director Eugene Mullins. The group wanted the records from November 2008 to April 2009.
They submitted the request after several political missteps, such as Stroger hiring and promoting Cole, an ex-convict.
In June, Stroger and Gregg Goslin signed a pledge to honor the Freedom of Information Act.
The FOIA request came after Fairview Heights Mayor Gail Mitchell said the suits did not cost the city anything.
Although Illinois state law requires the city supply grounds for refusal, when the city denied a June 9 FOIA request on June 12, they did not cite the reasons for the exemption. City officials have said that they have tried contacting City Attorney Al Paulson, with no calls back, to determine the grounds for exemption.
The request was in order to determine how much the city took away from the litigation that lasted four years and how much its attorneys were paid.
Settlement documents that were released in May show that the defendants paid the city received about $315,000. Both parties were supposed to pay for their own costs for the suits.
Springfield, IL On July 26, 2010, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued a partial veto for the controversial Illinois House Bill 5154 which would have exempted all governmental employee evaluations from release under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The current proposal by Quinn would only exempt performance evaluations of police and law enforcement personal, instead of all governmental employees. Justifying his veto, Quinn told the press, “With this change, I am ensuring and promoting public safety while maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system,” he added. “At the same time, Illinois’ new sunshine laws will be give time to work without significant amendments.” The proposal, which closely resembles Senate Bill 3040 which was rejected by the legislature in favor of broader exemptions, still requires approval from the state legislature.
Chicago, IL This past week, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced an expansion of the city website at data.cityofchicago.org, to include a number of changes that will result in more proactive transparency. These changes include creating an online tracking device for 311 service requests as well as proactively posting the cities financial interest statements. However, the change that has received the most media attention is the listing of records requests submitted to the city under the states Freedom of Information Act which has reporters worried about the loss of valuable stories due to competition.
On August 11, 2009, Governor Quinn signed in to law a piece of transparency legislation that Americans for Prosperity and State Representative Michael Tryon (R – Crystal Lake) spearheaded. The bill, House Bill 35, will create the “Illinois Accountability Portal” as a law, requiring the Department of Central Management Services to create a transparent website with information regarding state expenditures, tax credits, state employee salaries and state contracts.
“I am proud to have worked with Americans for Prosperity on this initiative. After a two-year battle taxpayers will now have an opportunity to see how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent. I will continue to advocate for the type of common sense reforms that protect taxpayers and hold our government to the highest of standards,” said Rep. Tryon.
The 2009 version of the Illinois Accountability Portal (House Bill 35) received bi-partisan support and support from several grassroots organizations, trade associations, press associations, and taxpayer protection groups. There was strong opposition from labor unions because they did not believe salaries of state employees should be made public.
“We are pleased that Governor Quinn has signed HB 35 into law. Transparency is the first step towards holding our elected officials accountable for how they spend our tax dollars. Now, we must ensure that implementation takes place within the 12 month time span dictated by the act.” said Americans for Prosperity’s state director Joe Calomino.
Island Lake, IL Discrepancies in FOIA practices for city trustees have come to light in Island Lake IL this week, highlighting what some consider to be the use of FOIA laws to disenfranchise city trustees of opposing parties. The Chicago Daily Herald first investigated the story and discovered that while opponents of the mayor are forced to file records requests and pay for documents required for the performance of their duties, the mayor's allies did not face the same difficulties.
I have reviewed the Sunshine Review Ten-Point Transparency Checklist and I am proud Cook County discloses a wealth of information on our website. A significant initiative was the redesign of the county’s website which now provides access to much of the information suggested for county websites by the Sunshine Review. As the website continues to evolve, additional information contained in the Checklist will be made accessible.
The new website, or portal, would include searchable information about state expenditures, tax credits, contracts, and the salaries of all state employees.
Carothers helped the FBI as apart of an agreement between the two parties. In exchange for Carothers help in exposing local corruption, the FBI has agreed to reduce past corruption charges against him. In 2006, Carothers was charged for accepting a $40,000 bribe from a local developer who was pursuing city approval for a residential development.
In addition, Carothers later admitted in 2007 to having had received around $45,000 from Aiyash in exchange for his support of a proposal that granted Aiyash permission to develop in a certain area.
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