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Analysis: Does Obama need schooling on scholarships?

Updated: May 1, 2012 8:04AM



Add President Barack Obama to the list of current and former Illinois lawmakers who may have violated the lone rule of the controversial legislative scholarship program: that the recipient live within the awarding lawmaker’s district.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, while serving as 13th District state senator, Obama awarded one-year free-tuition scholarships to Angela Bennett to attend Southern Illinois University. Her home address was in the 7400 block of South Luella in Chicago, state records show.

In 2004, Obama gave a one-year scholarship to Brooke Henton to attend the University of Illinois. Her home address was in the 7500 block of South Oglesby.

Both addresses were within the boundaries of Obama’s district prior to the redistricting that followed the 2000 Census. And Bennett lived in Obama’s district when she received her first scholarship from him, in 2002.

However, once new legislative boundaries took effect in 2003, neither address remained in the 13th District, according to district maps and elections officials. Both Bennett and Henton were less than a block outside the new boundaries — so they should not have been eligible for a scholarship from Obama from 2003 on.

An Obama spokeswoman declined comment.

Fire official feels burned by alderman

Chicago Fire Department Lt. Carmelita Wiley-Earls has an idea why she was recently transferred from a plum post at the Fire Academy: West Side Ald. Jason Ervin.

Wiley-Earls ran against Ervin for alderman in 2011 and committeeman in 2012, but she didn’t make the ballot because of petition challenges.

So, it goes without saying there’s bad blood.

Wiley-Earls said Ervin approached her then-boss, Fire Commissioner Robert Hoff, last summer and accused her of politicking in uniform.

“ ‘You need to do something about that goddamn commander of yours, coming around my office in her uniform stirring up s---,’ ” Ervin told Hoff, according to Wiley-Earls, who said Hoff described the encounter to her.

Three months later, Wiley-Earls was told her nearly six-year run at the Fire Academy (where she was the No. 3 official) was over, she said. Wiley-Earls, one of the highest-ranking black women on the force, now is working firehouses.

Hoff couldn’t be reached. A department spokesman said the transfer was devoid of politics. Ervin denied involvement. Wiley-Earls insisted she wasn’t campaigning in uniform.

As an aside, she filed a civil rights lawsuit against the fire department earlier this year claiming she’s paid less than her white counterparts.

No matter where all this goes, Wiley-Earls said she’s planning to challenge Ervin again for alderman.

Police transparency

Let’s hope the Chicago Police Department is loosening up — not in fighting crime, but in fighting members of the public who want to get at its data.

We tried some months back to get deployment information on tactical teams assigned to Chicago’s 20-plus police districts. “Tact” teams are composed of plainclothes cops who generally focus on guns, gangs and drugs.

Historically there are three teams per district, and we wanted to know how often they were being shipped to other districts, beefing up coverage elsewhere in the city but, perhaps, leaving their home turf lacking.

The CPD reacted by coming up with a flimsy argument about the security of its operations and refusing to release documents.

So the BGA sued and the city, to its credit, turned over material that, while not overly detailed, provided an indication of where the tact officers were deployed.

Nothing horrible jumped out. Yes, tact officers sometimes were assigned to festival duty (the data we received was primarily from July 2010 and July 2011), and sometimes they were shipped to outside districts to help with hot-spot operations. But, from what we hear, this used to be so common that some districts were routinely left bare as units were dispatched elsewhere.

CPD’s Joe Patterson told us that “in the last three or four years, the tact teams are not deployed that often, we try to keep them home, in district as much as possible.”

We’re not taking a position on staffing scenarios, but we’re hopeful CPD brass can redeploy itself as a friend of transparency in the future.

Send us your tips and join the BGA through www.bettergov.org. Contact BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw via info@bettergov.org or (312) 427-8330.



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