Category Archives: Andy Shaw

BGA to Chicago City Council: Delay Infrastructure Trust Plan

An open letter to aldermen says the Mayor’s blueprint needs greater scrutiny and more public accountability. It urges the City Council to vote no, or to delay and review, the controversial ordinance.

April 17, 2012

Dear Aldermen:

It is the position of the Better Government Association that the ordinance creating the Infrastructure Trust lacks measures to ensure the transparency, oversight and accountability necessary to protect taxpayers and to properly inform the public about the Trust’s motivations and actions.

The BGA urges you to vote “no” on the ordinance creating the Infrastructure Trust or to defer and publish it, which would postpone its passage long enough to allow further review and possible revisions. Here’s why:

More time is needed to understand the scope and scale of the Infrastructure Trust.

The fast-tracking advocated by the Mayor’s office leaves too little time for Aldermen and public interest groups to fully examine and evaluate the ordinance. The revised ordinance from the Mayor’s office—the one you will be called to vote on tomorrow—has only been public since Friday. An ordinance to create a multi-billion dollar trust with taxpayer money deserves a longer period of time between introduction and passage, and public hearings would help Aldermen and citizens understand the merits and pitfalls of the Mayor’s proposal.

The Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act do not apply to the Infrastructure Trust, a non-profit agency.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Open Meetings Act (OMA) are state statutes that apply only to public bodies. The Illinois Attorney General has jurisdiction over public bodies that fail to comply with the requirements of FOIA and OMA, and a special office (the Public Access Counselor) to assist citizens who are unable to obtain documents via FOIA.

Unlike public bodies, non-profits like the Trust are not subject to Illinois FOIA or OMA. A city ordinance cannot unilaterally extend the authority of the Illinois Attorney General over a non-profit. That means that if the Trust fails to comply with FOIA or OMA, the only recourse is litigation in the courts. Citizens and members of the press submitting FOIA requests to the Trust will not have the protections and assistance offered by the Public Access Counselor, who ensures that public entities comply with FOIA.

The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Infrastructure Trust.

The Chicago Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Trust because the Trust is a separate entity from the city. To the extent that the Trust enters agreements with the City, the IG could potentially examine those specific agreements. However, the IG’s authority does not extend to deals with related agencies, some of which do not have their own Inspector General. As you know, related city agencies include the Chicago Public Schools, the Housing Authority and the Park District, taxpayer-supported agencies that have great impact on residents’ lives.

For these reasons and more we urge you to vote “no” or move to delay a vote. This is not to denigrate the mayor’s plan but to improve it by adding enough transparency, accountability and oversight measures to avoid another fiasco like the privatization of the parking meters. Let’s go slow and get this one right.

If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to email or call Emily Miller, BGA Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator, at emiller@bettergov.org or 773-203-9654; or Robert Reed, BGA Director of Investigations and Programming, at 312-203-5722 or rreed@bettergov.org.

Thank you.

Andy Shaw
President and CEO

Emily Miller
Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Transparency

BGA Statement on the Illinois House Passage of a Bill to End Legislative Scholarships

By Emily Miller
Emily is the BGA’s Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator. Contact her at emiller@bettergov.org. Follow her on Twitter @EJMill.


The Illinois House today passed HB3810, which calls for the elimination of the decades-old legislative scholarship program. The BGA has been at the forefront of a movement to end a program, that’s been the topic of BGA investigations and other media reports documenting how lawmakers have used the scholarships to pay back cronies, political backers and supporters.

“This is an important first step in ending this long-abused and misused program,” said Andy Shaw, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Better Government Association. “Now it is up to the Illinois Senate, and Senate President John Cullerton, to have a floor vote, which we believe will mirror the House vote and send the bill to the governor’s desk for his promised signature.

“Scholarships should not be doled out by legislators, nor should they be used as a way to pay back cronies, political supporters or friends. Scholarships should be granted by state universities that have the expertise to accomplish this important task, not politicians.”

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Legislative Update

IL Gambling Expansion: Andy Shaw Voices BGA’s Concerns in Aug. 4 Chicago Tribune

Earlier this summer, the BGA began shining a light on controversial legislation in Springfield that would dramatically expand gaming in Illinois. To push the process toward more transparency, and to better educate the public, we:

Here’s the full-version:

Before Expanding Gambling, Let’s Get All the Facts

By Andy Shaw, president & CEO,  BGA

Flickr--Zdenko Zivkovic

In the final days of the spring legislative session the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill authorizing a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois that includes a city-owned casino in Chicago, casinos in four other locations and the installation of slot machines in airports and racetracks.

Senate Bill 744 is expected to reach Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk in the next month, and supporters are hoping that he signs it into law by October. The Better Government Association is not among them.

The BGA agrees with numerous critics of the bill, including the Tribune and the chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board, that this is a deeply flawed piece of legislation that should not become law until a much-needed fact-finding mission is completed.

The potential ramifications of the bill should be addressed, analyzed, discussed and debated openly and thoroughly so it’s better understood by the governor and the public. That, unfortunately, never happened in the rush-to-passage at the end of the legislative session.

For the record, the BGA is not ideologically opposed to an expansion of gambling, or a Chicago casino.

But the BGA is troubled by the hurried process that churned out a mammoth bill of breathtaking proportions. As a result the BGA proposes:

  • Forming an independent, fact-finding group. The governor should immediately appoint a review board, task force or commission mandated by Executive Order to explore the economic and social implications of SB 744. The group should produce a comprehensive report before the bill arrives on Quinn’s desk.
  • Soliciting meaningful public input. The legislature dealt the public out of this hand. Although the gambling expansion issue is not new to Illinois, SB 744 smacks of a “rush to judgment” that was passed without adequate due diligence. Public hearings should definitely be an integral part of the governor’s fact-finding task force.
  • Providing credible, independent economic research. There is a dismal lack of trustworthy economic research and data behind this bill, and it’s irresponsible not to assess its impact on Chicago and other communities throughout Illinois. The public deserves direct answers to some simple but crucial questions, including: What is the economic impact of new casinos around the state and the addition of so many more slot machines? What is the market demand for more gaming in Chicago and downstate markets and cities, especially now that video poker has been green-lighted by the Illinois Supreme Court? How many new jobs will really be created by the expansion? And what kind of jobs? Will state revenues actually increase or just be shifted away from other entertainment venues? What are the anticipated social costs?
    Governor Quinn should marshal the resources of his government, including the Departments of Revenue and Commerce and Economic Development, along with experts from state universities and research from other states and municipalities to provide credible answers. Relying on outdated research, or studies produced by partisan forces, makes for bad decisions.
  • Explaining the risks to taxpayers. SB744 enables the City of Chicago to own a casino license. What are the risks to the city’s “shareholders”–the taxpayers–if a casino runs into financial trouble or goes bust? At the end of the day, would taxpayers be forced to bail out a failed casino? What are the rewards to the taxpayers of a city-owned casino? The people have a right to know their level of exposure or return on investment from this bill.
  • Protecting against crime. Will the public be properly protected from the criminal activity and influence that always seem to surface when gambling is involved? Can and will the state invest the resources needed to regulate, investigate and oversee the gambling concerns that enter or expand in Illinois?

These are essential questions that merit thoughtful examination in the context of the additional strain the expansion would place on the state’s existing gambling regulatory system. Aaron Jaffe, the head of the Illinois Gaming Board, the state’s top gaming regulator, has voiced serious doubts about SB744 and questions the ability of his agency to properly scrutinize more gaming vendors while also overseeing the legalization of video poker in other parts of the state.

To address these serious concerns, the BGA is recommending Gov. Quinn act fast and get the pertinent information and real answers necessary to complete the fact-finding process the General Assembly failed to deliver.

Absent credible, reliable and satisfactory data to support each of these preconditions, the Governor should take whatever steps are necessary to prevent this bill from becoming law.

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Gaming

Chicago Tribune Editorial: ‘Does Citizen Daley deserve a security detail?’

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

The following editorial by BGA President & CEO Andy Shaw appeared in the May 13 Chicago Tribune—read it here.

Mayor Richard Daley’s request for a security detail after he leaves office creates a golden opportunity for Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to demonstrate his approach to solving a problem that has fiscal, civic and public safety components.

Throw in the political and human dimensions for good measure and what you have is a microcosm of virtually every daunting challenge Emanuel will face in the coming months.

The security issue goes beyond Daley. Other recipients include the incoming mayor, the city clerk and treasurer; Ald. Ed Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee; and anyone else on an “as needed” basis.

Questions that have to be answered include: Continue reading

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Inspector General to ‘Open Chicago’ With New Transparency Initiative

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Image (remixed) courtesy withassociates/Flickr

Today I’m watching another group that watches the behavior of public officials and their governments—the City of Chicago Office of Inspector General (IGO)—which just announced a new transparency initiative dubbed “Open Chicago.”

This is a major step toward the level of transparency that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis envisioned nearly a century ago when he called “sunlight the best disinfectant.”

You can’t assess a government you can’t see, and this transparency initiative will make it easier to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable. Chicago taxpayers should be encouraged by the efforts of Joe Ferguson, an inspector general who is willing and eager to use all the tools at his disposal to facilitate the higher quality of government we deserve but too infrequently receive.

Here’s the release from the IG:

Chicago Inspector General Announces New Transparency Initiative “Open Chicago”

Citing the importance of promoting and enhancing transparency in City government Inspector General Joe Ferguson today announced “Open Chicago,” a new transparency initiative.

Hosted on the City of Chicago’s Office of Inspector General’s (IGO) newly redesigned website, the initiative is aimed at increasing the public’s understanding of City government and to further the IGO’s mandate of promoting economy, efficiency, effectiveness and integrity in the administration of the programs and operations of the City government.

“The mission of the IGO is to promote efficiency and effectiveness in government programs. Vindication of that mission requires accountability, which is elusive without transparency,” said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. “Public information, necessary to the IGO’s understanding and assessment of government operations, is equally necessary to making City government more transparent to Chicago residents. With this initiative, the IGO is committing itself to making public data available utilized in the course of our work to inform our understanding of what the City does and how it does it.”

Open Chicago will have three main components: (i) increasing the transparency of the IGO’s audits and program reviews; (ii) publishing and linking to public, non-confidential City data on the IGO’s website; and (iii) identifying best practices in government transparency and accountability.

The goal of Open Chicago is to make City government more transparent. When appropriate, the IGO will ask the City departments responsible for public data to publish the data themselves. If City departments agree to these requests and publish the information in a manner that meets the Open Chicago criteria for true transparency, the IGO will simply link to this information on its website.

In response to the first Open Chicago request from the IGO, the City has published its Collective Bargaining Agreements with local unions, Single Audit Reports on Federal Grants, as well as the list of property the City leases. The IGO has provided these links on its website. Previously, the IGO posted an Excel version of the City’s budget.

“The City has made strides in committing itself to transparency, but gaps remain. The IGO is uniquely positioned to shore up those gaps, and our office has the knowledge to provide context for and analysis of City data, as well as the capabilities for making that data accessible to the public,” said Mr. Ferguson.

The IGO will periodically update its Open Chicago page with new datasets. Questions or suggestions for new data can be directed to openchicago@chicagoinspectorgeneral.org. Follow the IGO on Twitter at ChicagoIGO for the latest Open Chicago information, as well updates on how the IGO continues to fight waste, fraud, abuse, and inefficiency in Chicago government.

I’d love to read your comments about the initiative….

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Transparency

Kennedy Challenges BGA on Police Protection for Politicians

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Christopher G. Kennedy (Photo/Facebook)

The following commentary was published this weekend in the Chicago Sun-Times. >> Click here to read Chris Kennedy’s letter to me about police bodyguard details for politicians.

Christopher Kennedy, president of the Merchandise Mart and U. of I. board chairman, is one of Chicago’s most prominent business and civic leaders. He also grew up with the unimaginable scars of two horrific family tragedies: The assassinations of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, and his father, Robert, during the 1968 Presidential campaign. Few people have a closer connection to the existential dangers of public service in the emotional and sometimes irrational world of politics and public service. So when Chris wrote me recently to weigh in on the controversy over the police bodyguard detail that’s been protecting Chicago alderman and Finance Committee chairman Ed Burke for several decades, I paid close attention.

“Now is the wrong time to decrease protection for public servants,” Kennedy wrote. “It is a time of budget cuts, layoffs, vendor consolidation and cuts to all services, all of which are enormously disruptive to people’s lives. These victims of the recession in general and government cuts in particular sometimes mischannel the anger caused by such disruption. At these times an elected official like Alderman Burke—who has long tenure, a committee chairmanship and a high-profile—is a potential focus for misplaced anger, hatred and revenge.”

The letter arrived a few days before a news report that one of Burke’s southwest side constituents had been arrested for leaving a threatening phone message at Burke’s ward office.

Let me put this in context: The Better Government Association filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department earlier this year because CPD refused to provide us with financial and manpower details of Burke’s security detail. We’re not advocating for or against his police protection, and we’re not trying to jeopardize his safety, but we do believe the public has a right to know how many officers are assigned to the detail, and how much it costs taxpayers. We don’t need a day-by-day security breakdown—how many cops in how many cars—but we do believe that annualized statistics will give the public a sense of how police are being deployed and tax dollars spent at a time when both are in short supply.

CPD has refused to provide the information, despite repeated Freedom of Information Act requests, claiming it’s a private security matter, but we respectfully disagree. Annualized data won’t endanger Burke, but it will make it easier to decide if one of Chicago’s 50 aldermen deserves a 24-7 bodyguard detail wherever he goes.

Chris Kennedy seems to agree with the transparency argument, writing that “the FOIA process has provided a pretty good vehicle for increasing the amount of disclosure and transparency and as such is a good tool for the BGA.” He adds that “pursuing information is a worthy goal” before adding his personal view of the Burke situation.

Burke’s security detail has been a hot-button issue for years—the late mayor Harold Washington tried to scale it back in the 1980’s, when he and Burke were engaged in the pitched political battle known as “Council Wars.” Burke won the security showdown in 1986 when a Cook County judge blocked Washington’s cutback effort, and Mayor Daley, who has his own bodyguard detail, has never challenged Burke on the security issue. Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel said publicly the Burke detail is probably unsupportable at a time when taxpayers and city workers are being asked to sacrifice, but Emanuel hasn’t said anything about downsizing his own security or reviewing the police protection the city clerk and treasurer receive.

As for the man who threatened Burke, he apologized, blaming the phone call on his medical problems, which include AIDS, depression and the abuse of both alcohol and prescription drugs. “I’ve never been in trouble with the law,” Timothy Hercog said. “I’m not a violent person. I’ve never hurt anyone.”

In his letter to me, Chris Kennedy says “one of the great byproducts of a strong BGA is the potential to lure high-quality candidates back into government service. Somehow we need to strike the right balance between cost-cutting and personal safety.”

We couldn’t agree more. We’re simply arguing for transparency—our right to know the basics so the right decisions can be made. As revered Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said in 1913, “sunshine is the best disinfectant.” That’s still true nearly a century later, as we celebrate “Sunshine Week,” which recognizes the first step in assessing the performance of government is transparency. You can’t assess what you can’t see.

Chris Kennedy makes a strong case for protecting some elected officials. So in the spirit of Brandeis, transparency and “Sunshine Week,” CPD should release relevant information about the present so we can make an informed decision about the future.

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Commentary

Sorry, Seniors — We Were All Taken For A Ride

By Andy Shaw, BGA President & CEO

Photo courtesy Salim Virji/Flickr

The BGA loves seniors. In fact, some of us watchdogs wear the gray mantle proudly.

But the old saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” actually rings true in this daunting and sometimes frightening era of massive government deficits, bloated bureaucracies, unaffordable services and benefits, and intolerable patronage. So the BGA is proud to have waged a successful campaign to eliminate the unaffordable aspects of the “Seniors Ride Free” transit program. The freebie was an ill-advised political stunt by our disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich, and it proved to be a mismanaged, abuse-ridden boondoggle, as we demonstrated in an investigative series with FOX Chicago News that we titled “Riding While Dead.” More than a third of the free rides were taken by seniors with incomes above $55,000 a year, at a time when the state is billions of dollars in the red.

So we applaud the Illinois lawmakers who followed our stories and approved legislation that restricts the program to the neediest seniors, those taking home less than $25,000 a year. And we appreciate Gov. Pat Quinn signing a measure he opposed until recently. There are, sadly, still far too many “free lunches” permeating government. That’s a big part of the public sector fiscal crisis. Ending free rides for seniors won’t end the free lunch mentality, but it’ll take a few fries off the plate. Now we’ll go after the budget-busting burgers.

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Filed under Andy Shaw, Commentary