In the spirit of the season, here’s what we consider the Better Government Association’s “Top Ten Investigations of 2013” — not in order of importance because that’s too arbitrary, but chronologically:
◆ In February, “License to Swill” looked at police union contracts that apparently date back to the “Mad Men” era because they protect cops from disciplinary action even if their on-the-job blood-alcohol levels approach the legal definition of drunk.
◆ April’s “Wrongful Conviction Costs Keep Rising” updated our 2011 investigation of the cost, in human and financial terms, of sending people to prison for violent crimes they didn’t commit. Settlements of lawsuits spawned by those shameful miscarriages of justice have risen to nearly $300 million.
◆ “Braking Bad” in May was our latest story about mishaps involving Chicago Fire Department vehicles. In this case, an ambulance broke down while taking a gunshot victim to a hospital, where he later died.
◆ In June, “Fire Commissioner’s Pension Raises Alarm” asked why Ray Orozco Jr., who led the Chicago Fire Department for two years, receives a pension based, inexplicably, on four years at the helm, which adds $30,000 to his annual retirement check.
◆ “Doctors Do Little” focused in July on highly paid Cook County doctors who, enabled by lax oversight, apparently shortchanged patients and taxpayers by working only a few hours on many days.
◆ August’s “Clout Hiring Persists Under Quinn” exposed a possibly illegal employment scheme at the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is under the jurisdiction of the governor’s office.
◆ “Madigan’s Minions” in October went inside Michael Madigan’s political organization to document the correlation between campaign work, government jobs and political contributions to the powerful House Speaker and Illinois Democratic party chairman.
◆ “Two Brothers, Six Pensions” explained in November how State Rep. Robert Rita and his brother might end up collecting three public pensions each after collectively holding down six different government jobs.
◆ Also in November, “Dorothy’s Deed” revealed that Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown failed to disclose a real estate “gift” from a campaign donor to her husband, which Brown and her husband later sold for $100,000.
◆ And earlier this month, “A Rush of Financial Questions” uncovered Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush’s troubling personal and political finances, including a million- dollar grant to a Rush charity for a South Side technology center that was never built.
Fortunately, many of these investigations prompted specific reforms that we’ll talk about in a future column, and others sparked inquiries we’ll keep an eye on.
Our watchdog mission is to shine a bright light on government and hold public officials accountable, and it begins with a stellar investigative team that includes: Bob Reed, Bob Herguth, Patrick Rehkamp, Andrew Schroedter, Pat McCraney, Katie Drews; talented freelancers Chuck Neubauer, Sandy Bergo and Kari Lyderson; strong media partners like the Sun-Times; and the generous donors who support our work.
Remember, this is about our tax dollars, and our right to the fair, honest, transparent and efficient government we pay for.
So from the entire Better Government Association family: Happy New Year and on to 2014!
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association