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Statewide Update—May 1, 2012

Richard Daley

Former Mayor Richard Daley

Chicago TribunePension Games: Chicago aldermen to reap millions from inflated pensions, “When Chicago aldermen floated a proposal in 1987 to boost their city pensions dramatically, Mayor Harold Washington’s administration dismissed it as an arrogant ploy that lacked even a cursory cost analysis. Three years later, the proposal still didn’t have a price tag. But records show that the new mayor, Richard M. Daley, helped push it through the state Legislature anyway. Now a Tribune/WGN-TV investigation reveals how much those lucrative pensions could end up costing taxpayers.”

Chicago Sun-TimesEmanuel: I’ll get to promised ethics fixes, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday embraced a proposed overhaul of Chicago’s anemic ethics ordinance, then struggled to explain why he has failed to deliver on a promise to give the city’s corruption-fighting inspector general broader powers and more resources. For all his efforts to draw the curtain on the scandal-scarred years of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, Emanuel hasn’t given Inspector General Joe Ferguson the authority he’s promised to investigate the City Council, the Chicago Park District or Public Building Commission. Nor has the mayor guaranteed the office one-tenth of one percent of the city’s annual budget. “

Chicago TribuneLawmaker pleads not guilty to bribery: ‘I will not cower’, “State Rep. Derrick Smith pleaded not guilty today to federal bribery charges and issued his first public comments after his court appearance. Smith, under pressure to resign his position, accused the FBI of engaging in ‘shenanigans’ during the investigation and said agents pressured people to ‘say bad things about me.’… Smith also suggested he will remain in office while he fights the charges.”

Daily HeraldPreckwinkle: Towns should annex unincorporated Cook County, “A task force empaneled by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is calling for municipalities to annex all unincorporated areas of Cook County to save the county money. Preckwinkle offered no timeline to eliminate the unincorporated areas where roughly 98,000 of the county’s 5.2 million residents live. Nor did she estimate what the county would save by no longer having to provide sheriff’s patrols and other services to those areas.”

Chicago Sun-TimesFormer Daley aide Teele now lobbying Chicago tourism agency, “Terry Teele — a trusted adviser to former Mayor Richard M. Daley forced out in a 2000 ethics scandal — has landed a lucrative lobbying contract with the mega-agency charged with promoting Chicago as a site for conventions and tourism.  Don Welsh, CEO of the agency now known as Choose Chicago, was tight-lipped when asked why he chose Teele.”

Chicago Sun-TimesEditorial: Unwise rush to judgment on victims’ rights amendment, “Nothing that goes on in Springfield should surprise us. Yet we confess we’re scratching our heads over the Legislature’s rush to approve a victims’ rights constitutional amendment without first addressing potential pitfalls.”

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Statewide update—April 30, 2012

Al Podgorski
/Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-TimesTask Force: Whistleblowers should get more protection, “Whistleblowers will get more protection and city employees will be required to report corruption under proposed changes to Chicago’s ethics ordinance that will be announced Monday. Those changes are among 34 recommendations by an Ethics Task Force recruited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to overhaul the city’s ethics ordinance.”

  • The SouthernPublic larceny can be easy in Illinois, Feds: $30 million milked from one small town, “Ghost employees and phantom vendors aren’t characters in the next big horror movie. Rather, they represent just two of the ways government employees can defraud taxpayers. The recent arrest of a small-town finance official accused of siphoning $30 million over the past few decades highlights just how vulnerable to fraud the approximately 4,900 taxing bodies in Illinois are… Having only one person in charge of finances in small towns and other taxing bodies is a common arrangement, making taxpayer dollars inherently vulnerable to abuse and to theft.”
  • Chicago Sun-TimesClout builder settles whistleblower suit for $6.4 million, “Walsh Construction — a behemoth builder of roads, bridges and buildings with long ties to the Daley family — has paid $6.4 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that accused the contractor of overcharging taxpayers on 11 federally subsidized housing projects, records show.”
  • State Journal-RegisterLegislators take aim at subsidy for retiree health insurance, “Legislation to do away with the health insurance premium subsidy available to state retirees opens a new front in the battle between legislators determined to cut the state’s retirement debt and unions representing state workers… The amendment to Senate Bill 1313 would eliminate subsidies for health insurance for retirees. Instead, the Department of Central Management Services would determine how much the state would contribute to ‘the basic program of group health benefits on behalf of retired employees, annuitants and survivors.”
  • Chicago TribuneCity seeks gag order in police neglect case, “In the wake of a damaging appellate court ruling against the Chicago Police Department, lawyers for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration have asked a judge to keep the family of a mentally ill California woman from speaking publicly about the case. The move was prompted by a sharply critical statement Christina Eilman’s family issued after the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that their lawsuit could proceed after a two-year delay, a legal opinion that likened police conduct to throwing her in a lion’s den.”
  • (AP) State Journal-RegisterState lawmaker accused of bribery due in court, “A state lawmaker accused of bribery is due in federal court. The arraignment of state Rep. Derrick Smith is scheduled for Monday before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman. The Chicago Democrat has been charged with accepting a bribe in exchange for using his influence to obtain a state grant for a daycare center. Smith was arrested March 13, days before Illinois’ primary election where he won the Democratic nomination despite his arrest.”

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Statewide update—April 27, 2012

Scott Steward~Sun-Times

Chicago Sun-TimesCicero library board members get pricey perk: free health care for life, “Former library board members in Cicero, though, get something worth a whole lot more, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. They get excellent health insurance, currently a BlueCross BlueShield PPO plan. For life. For free. Their spouses and kids, until they turn 19, are covered, too, for free. What if the trustee dies? Not to worry. The family inherits the benefit, according to a legal analysis obtained by the Sun-Times. The former trustees don’t even have to serve their full six-year terms on the library board to get the benefit, once they leave.”

  • Chicago TribuneCourt: Parents of disabled woman can sue Chicago police for neglect, “More than two years after getting the case, a federal appeals court today ruled that a mentally ill California woman can sue the Chicago Police Department for releasing her into a violent neighborhood where she was raped and nearly killed… The city’s appeal had asked the court to dismiss the case against 10 police officers accused of negligence, arguing the police had no responsibility to take care of Eilman, a 21-year-old former UCLA student who had been arrested after creating a disturbance at Midway Airport.”
  • Chicago TribuneTollway: Employee was suspended for misuse of agency vehicle, “An Illinois Tollway employee was suspended for two days and ordered to pay $581 in restitution for using a tollway-owned vehicle for personal business, officials said Thursday. The discipline was disclosed in an internal audit, which concluded that the tollway could improve how it tracks employee vehicle use and recommended steps to better document the practice.”
  • Washington PostIs Rahm’s plan to rebuild Chicago brilliant—or disastrous? “The big question, however, is why Chicago would do things this way. An infrastructure bank, after all, is just another form of borrowing.. But here’s the problem. For this to work reasonably well, a city has to be smart about how it structures its contracts with private investors. Otherwise, there’s a real possibility that Chicago could pay too much for its infrastructure and, essentially, get fleeced by shrewd investors like Citibank and J.P. Morgan.”
  • State Journal-RegisterIllinois lawmaker asked to limit bribery probe, “Federal prosecutors aren’t making things easy for Illinois lawmakers who are looking into bribery allegations against a House member. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told the legislative panel that he can’t reveal details of the case against Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith of Chicago. He also asked lawmakers not to conduct their own investigation because it might interfere with the criminal case. But Fitzgerald did say he has no objection to lawmakers asking Smith to testify.”
  • Daily HeraldSenate approves measure regulating ‘fracking’, “The Illinois Senate unanimously signed off on a measure Thursday that would regulate debated technology used to reach previously inaccessible natural gas reserves deep underground, a method that worries some environmentalists because of possible pollution from mixtures of water, sand and chemicals. The Senate’s 54-0 passage of the bill addressing hydraulic fracturing — commonly called fracking — comes amid reports that energy companies are in a torrid push to explore possible drilling sites in southern Illinois, long known for its rich below-ground coal and oil reserves.”
  • The SouthernSenate Oks enterprise zone extensions, “The Illinois Senate unanimously approved legislation Thursday designed to extend a long-running business tax incentive program… The legislation is being pushed because some of the zones are scheduled to expire next year, including Decatur, Rockford and Peoria. With the tax incentives in limbo, city officials say they aren’t able to offer businesses long-term investment packages. Enterprise zones give state and local tax exemptions to businesses locating in the area. One of the more popular incentives provides a sales tax exemption on materials used in construction of business facilities.”

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Statewide Update—Feb. 17, 2012

Northwest HeraldEditorial: Our taxes hard at work, “[McHenry] County is spending taxpayer dollars for membership in Metro Counties of Illinois, a lobbying group working in Springfield to add more exceptions to the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Specifically, a measure supported by the Metro Counties is House Bill 3137, which would exempt drafts of speeches and presentations, government job applications, recommendations and opinions on applicants for government jobs, among other information.”

  • (AP) State Journal-RegisterQuinn’s budget plan to include more state facility closures, “Gov. Pat Quinn says he’ll propose closing ‘quite a few’ state facilities in his budget address next week. The Democrat told The Associated Press Thursday that the closures are necessary for a better budget. He declined to give any specifics on the closures, saying details would come during his budget address Wednesday.”
  • Chicago Sun-TimesBlagojevich to serve sentence at Denver-area prison, “Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich will serve his prison sentence for corruption at a low-security federal prison for male prisoners near Denver, as he had requested and a judge had recommended, sources said.”
  • Daily HeraldOTB plans on track in Hoffman Estates, “After years of talks, an off-track betting facility may finally land in Hoffman Estates by the fall…[Senior village planner Jim Donahue] said the village and Cook County will each receive 1 percent of the ‘handle,’ or dollars wagered at the facility. He said the owner expects to bring in about $14 million in handle per year once the facility is operational, generating $140,000 annually for both the village and county.”
  • SouthtownStarRahm Emanuel finds ally in new fire chief Jose Santiago, “Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday appointed 33-year veteran Chicago firefighter Jose Santiago as Chicago’s new fire commissioner — and found an ally in his plan to wring millions of dollars in savings out of the city’s second-largest department.”
  • Bloomington PantagraphLittle room left to waste: County urges restraint as landfill approaches limit, “Bloomington, Normal, McLean County and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency all would play roles in the approval process [to expand the current site.] Several years ago, the IEPA set state recycling goals in an effort to reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfills. The Illinois Solid Waste Planning and Recycling Act required larger municipalities to create solid waste management plans that include recycling.”

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Statewide update—Feb. 3, 2012

legscholarshipsState Journal-RegisterEditorial: Legislative scholarships a perk we can’t afford, “It’s long past time for Illinois legislators to give up the legislative scholarship program that allows them to bestow two, four-year college scholarships a year for Illinois public colleges on the constituents of their choosing with no strings attached. (They also can be divided into two-year scholarships for four constituents.) We are sure this program was founded with good intentions. We’re more certain, though, that it has become an abused perk too easily and too often used to reward the connected.”

  • Chicago TribuneWrongful convictions spur State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to reform unit for controversial prosecutions, “After years of criticism from some legal circles for the way her office has handled wrongful conviction cases, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said Thursday that she has formed a unit to review prosecutions that have come under question. Alvarez said the creation of the conviction integrity unit marks a ‘shift in philosophy’ and vowed that her office would “increase our focus and our openness about these cases.”
  • Chicago Sun-TimesEmanuel names Paula Wolff to head City Colleges board, “Determined to deliver on his ‘college-to-careers’ makeover of the Chicago City Colleges, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is bringing new leadership to the board that oversees the system for the third time in two years. Board member Paula Wolff, who spent eight years as president of Governor’s State University, will replace Martin Cabrera Jr. as board chairman.”
  • SouthtownStarEditorial: Illinois bets further on gambling, “Taxpayers have eased past the point of even well-intended squeamishness when it comes to gambling because it’s part of Illinois’ official DNA. One day we all may rue state government’s addiction to gambling money. But be concerned about this latest expansion? Sorry, it’s too late. Selling lottery tickets via the Internet and credit card payment is only the next pit stop on the Yellow Brick Road. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The betting window opens this spring in a ‘pilot program’ that we wager is sure to become permanent.”
  • The SouthernUnion lobbies for pay raises, “Unionized state workers staged a protest outside of Gov. Pat Quinn’s office Thursday over the Chicago Democrat’s failure to pay wage hikes contained in their current contract. Armed with placards that read, ‘Gov. Quinn: Respect Worker Rights, an estimated 250 workers from around the state said the governor is being disingenuous when he criticizes anti-labor union policies being enacted in Indiana and Wisconsin at the same time he refuses to honor a collective bargaining agreement he helped put in place.”

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Statewide update—Sept. 19, 2011

Daily HeraldState treasurer’s mailing sent to big-name donors, “This summer, the office of Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford sent a glossy summary of ‘successes’ to a select 850 state residents — a majority of whom happen to be major campaign donors to the Pontiac Republican. Rutherford, who party insiders say is strongly mulling a bid for governor, says it is ‘merely a coincidence’ that nearly two-thirds of the recipients of the slick mailer are also donors to his political campaign.”

  • Chicago Sun-TimesSome county commissioners say furlough days are for union workers, not them, “On Friday, Preckwinkle sent a letter to Cook County commissioners generically thanking those who were taking 10 days off without pay this year — part of a countywide cost-saving plan. But she also indicated she knew who hadn’t and was ‘disappointed by the decision of a number of commissioners who have chosen not to participate in this process.’…[Commissioner Beavers] went along with it until he started chatting with some other commissioners, and they decided the pay cut was ‘illegal.’ He’s referring to the Illinois Constitution which says the salaries of sitting elected officials can’t be increased or decreased during their term of office. That doesn’t mean Beavers and others can’t voluntarily give up some of their pay.”
  • SouthtownStarCountry Club Hills officials log $30,000 in cell phone bills, “With little oversight and scant record keeping, Country Club Hills aldermen have spent thousands of dollars on cell phone bills, charging taxpayers for multiple phone lines and cell phones for family members, a SouthtownStar analysis has found.”
  • State Journal-RegisterDebate over insurance premium for state retirees to resurface, “A key state senator said he will try to push legislation during the upcoming veto session that would require retired state employees to pay premiums for their state health insurance. Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said he is still working on details of the plan, but he wants to have something he can give lawmakers to study before the veto session starts Oct. 25.”
  • State Journal-RegisterState fair casinos in Delaware, New Mexico generating millions, “If Gov. Pat Quinn signs the gambling expansion bill — a big ‘if’ given the myriad of objections expressed by the governor to date — the Illinois State Fairgrounds would join at least two other state fairgrounds nationwide in having slot machines. The fairgrounds in New Mexico and Delaware have full-fledged casinos at the racetracks on their facilities. The casinos provide revenue streams that help those state fairs to be mostly self-sustaining, instead of depending upon millions of taxpayer dollars, as the Illinois State Fair does.”
  • Daily HeraldIllinois poverty growing as state help shrinks, “Department of Human Services budget by hundreds of millions of dollars, including $4.7 million for homeless services. The result is that many of the state’s poorest and most vulnerable…are left with fewer options and more uncertainty even as census data shows Illinois grappling with its highest poverty rate in nearly two decades as the jobless rate rises.”
  • Chicago Sun-TimesFraud case targets grants awarded by President Obama’s friend, “The indictment of a Chicago nurse accused of diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds for her personal use has turned a spotlight on an Illinois state agency that awarded her money while it was headed by one of President Barack Obama’s closest friends, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, [the former head of the Illinois Department of Public Health], records show.”

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