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Four glimmers of hope on reform front

Updated: October 5, 2013 11:42PM



Government is in chaos at so many levels these days.

Large swaths of the federal bureaucracy are shut down by the high-risk brinkmanship of Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

State government staggers under the weight of a crushing pension crisis.

City, county and suburban governments continue to scrap and scrape to get by.

Wouldn’t it be nice to rewind the clock to a time when it was less crazy?

That’s obviously not possible, but we’re going to “rewind” the Better Government Association’s personal calendar to show that, while much of the public sector remains a disaster, we’ve made incremental progress on our reform agenda.

Obviously, there’s much more to do, but we’re circling back to some of the favorable outcomes in recent months, not to beat our chests — dozens of public officials and reform partners share the credit — but to provide a glimmer of hope.

Here’s a brief recap:

+ In September the BGA and CBS2 discovered the newest political Daley was getting property tax breaks he wasn’t entitled to.

Patrick Daley Thompson, grandson of the first Mayor Daley and nephew of the second, and now a commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, lives in the famous Bridgeport bungalow his grandfather owned and raised his clan in.

Thompson also owns another house on the block, and he was receiving “homeowner” exemptions on both properties, though he’s only allowed one.

After we inquired, he promptly cut a check to the Cook County treasurer’s office for more than $11,600 in undeserved exemptions.

Better late than never.

+ Over the summer Gov. Pat Quinn signed a reform bill that requires police to electronically record suspect interrogations in eight additional felony categories — not just homicides.

The new law is expected to reduce the number of forced confessions and wrongful convictions that have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and ruined countless lives.

The push to clean up this shameful miscarriage of justice stems from a 2011 BGA investigation of wrongful convictions in Illinois, and this is a major step in the fight to make the system more just.

+ Former Lyons Township School Treasurer Robert Healy was charged in August with two felonies for allegedly embezzling more than $1.5 million from the agency.

The charges followed a BGA/CBS2 investigation of malfeasance at an agency that manages hundreds of millions of tax dollars for about a dozen west suburban school districts.

The agency has also instituted reforms since Healy’s resignation.

It’s about time.

+ After we started investigating allegations that Cook County health and hospital doctors were shortchanging taxpayers by skipping work, officials fired one physician and disciplined another.

Officials also promised to implement better timekeeping protocols to ensure taxpayers and patients that highly compensated medical personnel are giving them a day’s work for a day’s pay.

It’s important to note that all of these reforms occurred in the last few months, and there’s reason to believe that more change is on the way.

But it takes time and patience when so much of government is so dysfunctional.

For the record, this is the BGA’s 90th anniversary, and we plan to be around for another 90.

So we’ll keep shining a bright light on government and holding public officials more accountable.

And trust me: We won’t be shutting down.

Even partially.

Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association.

Email: ashaw@bettergov.org

Twitter: @andyshawbga



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