Category Archives: Transparency

BGA Urges Reform in Wake of Oak Brook Village Investigations

Jan. 11, 2011: "Oak Brook Village Pres., Wife Collect $142K from 4 Pensions"

The tribulations of Oak Brook Village President John Craig, which were revealed in a recent BGA investigation that dealt with his secondary role as liquor commissioner, demonstrate that the Chicago suburb is a candidate for major reform especially when it comes to determining how much power its top municipal leader should wield.

Jan. 24, 2011: "Check, Please?" More conflicts-of-interest questions around Craig

A weeks-long BGA investigation (which in an earlier report focused on multiple public pensions held by Craig and his wife) has prompted a series of recommendations that village leaders are strongly encouraged to follow. The adoption and adherence of these simple but powerful reforms will clarify the role of the village president and serve to make Oak Brook’s more open and responsive to its residents.

The BGA asks that Oak Brook village officials:

  • Institute rules that ban elected officials and those pursuing elected office in Oak Brook from accepting or soliciting campaign contributions from businesses and individuals regulated by village government, including bars and restaurants.
  • Immediately initiate an independent inquiry that explores how a $10,000 campaign donation from Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse to Village President John Craig originated and whether Craig has ever solicited or accepted free food or drink from restaurants and bars in Oak Brook.
  • Separate liquor license duties from the village president’s job. Replace the post with a panel of appointees, or transfer responsibilities to an existing committee.
  • Immediately initiate an independent inquiry that explores whether village code is being violated due to the exclusion of the village clerk from the liquor license process.
  • Immediately initiate an independent inquiry that explores whether elected or appointed village officials steered or tried to steer municipal contracts to friends or political supporters. As part of this inquiry, all department heads should be interviewed.
  • Adhere to the protocols of the manager/village president system of government that calls for the president to help set policy but empowers the village manager to oversee operations. The village president should not be directing heads of departments—including and especially the police chief—on a regular basis, and getting involved in day-to-day decision-making.
  • Consider adopting a resolution that encourages village employees to speak out without fear of reprisal when they encounter suspected corruption, waste or inefficiency in Oak Brook’s municipal government.
  • Institute a procedure that allows elected officials other than the village president to place items on the village board agenda.

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Chicago’s Parking Meter Deal a Lesson in ‘Worst Practices’

Chicago's much-maligned parking meter deal could be an example of what not to do (compujeramey/Flickr)

Some major U.S. cities are watching the fallout from Chicago’s controversial parking meter leasing deal and don’t like what they’re seeing.

At a time when more municipalities and agencies are trying to ease heavy debt loads by spinning off publicly owned assets to private enterprises, Chicago’s lease sale to a private venture group is becoming a lesson in “worst practices.”

Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles are rethinking their parking meter deals because of Chicago’s difficulties, according to Bloomberg Business News. Unlike Chicago, these cities are willing to take less money upfront for a parking meter franchise in return for greater control, a shorter lease and greater operating flexibility over the life of a contract.

In 2008, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City Council agreed to lease Chicago’s parking meter business for 75 years and in return received $1.15 billion from Chicago Parking Meters LLC, a venture that includes Wall Street investment house Morgan Stanley, Alliance Capital Partners and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

The parking meter pact has come under continuous and heavy fire from critics who claim Mayor Daley rammed the agreement through a less-than-curious City Council. Since then, Daley has used nearly $800 million of the deal’s upfront money to plug budget gaps.

Among the customer complaints: The escalating cost of hourly parking; meters breaking down in cold winter weather and the expansion of meters into the city’s neighborhood business districts, a move that’s angering some small business owners and customers.

The parking meter agreement is also a hot-button issue in the Chicago mayoral campaign now underway.

Mayor Daley has nodded to operational problems with the parking meter sale but says it’s financially sound.

Nonetheless, it appears that other municipal leaders are viewing Chicago’s parking meter sale as a lesson in how not to make a deal.

Do you have concerns about the Chicago’s Parking Meter deal? Contact the BGA at 312.427.8330.

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The Illinois Freedom of (Some) Information Act?

Photo courtesy Sid Webb/Flickr

How quickly we forget.

In the wake of scandal and corruption at the highest levels of government, Illinois lawmakers passed a law in 2009 bolstering the Freedom of Information Act—a move designed to give everyday people access to important government information.

This year, however, lawmakers are having second thoughts and are trying to whittle away at this newly arrived accountability era by making it more difficult for the public to root out mismanagement, waste and corruption.

There’s no more glaring example of legislative backsliding than HB 5154, a measure passed by both the House and Senate last spring that flies in the face of reformers’ efforts to make Illinois government more transparent and accountable to taxpayers.

If the measure passes, the public will no longer have access to government employee performance reviews. This proposed law prevents government watchdog groups like the Better Government Association and the ACLU, along with investigative news teams, from accessing vital records that indicate whether Illinois is demanding the highest level of performance from its public servants.

Access to information about how our government spends our money is vital to uncovering waste and misconduct. Arguments to conceal performance evaluations hinge on fears that making those evaluations public will discourage managers from giving honest evaluations, or that the evaluation process will be used as a method of public humiliation to retaliate against unwanted employees. But these reasons only highlight the dysfunction of our personnel system, and do not speak to the legitimacy of the peoples’ right to access information about their government.

If the government gets to pick and choose, taxpayers will never know what’s really going on behind the curtain. Exempting performance evaluations from the sunlight of transparency does not serve the public good.

Gov. Quinn had the chance to veto the bill entirely, putting the public’s right to know how its tax dollars are spent first, but he did not. Instead, he used a legislative maneuver that sends the bill, with an amendment, back to the General Assembly to be heard next week.

No amendment could make this bill work for the public good.

We urge lawmakers to vote no on HB 5154 as it makes its way back through the General Assembly during the upcoming veto session.

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Orland Hills Village President Taps Son as Trustee

The BGA’s ears perked up when we learned of Orland Hill’s “all in the family” approach to filling vacancies on its village board. Turns out the village president, Kyle Hastings, had someone in mind to fill an empty seat—his son, Kyle Hastings II.

In response to the hiring, the BGA released the following statement, which appeared in part in this piece by the Southtown Star.

 

Orland Hills Village President Kyle Hastings (Photo/www.elect-linzeyjones.com)

When public officials hire family members and friends for positions in lieu of engaging in a public and transparent hiring process, taxpayers can get shortchanged. Kyle Hastings II may, in fact, be the most qualified candidate. But given the family ties, taxpayers deserve to have certain questions answered regarding the merit of his appointment. What are the objective qualifications for the position of village board member, and does Hastings II possess them? Who helped assess qualifications of candidates? Were there other candidates considered? Especially in light of the fiscal strain small communities are facing, Orland Hills taxpayers deserve to know their tax dollars are being spent in a fair and transparent way.

BGA Executive Director Andy Shaw weighed in with the Chicago Tribune , and on WBBM radio this morning:

BGA on ‘BBM: “All in the Family” OK for TV reruns, not in Orland Hills — Nov. 5, 2010

What do you think? Let Hastings know. You can give him a call at 708-349-6865.

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