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Editorial: UNO chief Rangel must step down

Juan Rangel  |  Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Juan Rangel | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

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Updated: July 2, 2013 7:04AM

Juan Rangel must step down as CEO of the United Neighborhood Organization.

Rangel has been a powerful and effective force in Chicago, especially within the Latino community, and much of the credit for UNO’s success in building charter schools goes to him.

But, as often happens in the business world, a top executive can do more harm than good to an organization by staying. Rangel has become a burden and distraction for UNO and its network of charter schools, the biggest in Illinois. If he cares about UNO’s future — and we don’t doubt that he does — the best thing Rangel can do is step out of the way.

UNO has big problems. Gov. Pat Quinn has suspended all remaining payments from a $98 million school construction grant. Work has stopped on a charter high school that is supposed to open in time for August classes.

Quinn acted after the Chicago Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos reported $8.5 million of the state funding went to companies owned by two brothers of top UNO executive Miguel d’Escoto, who resigned after the newspaper’s reports. Brothers of state Rep. Edward Acevedo and the sister of lobbyist Victor Reyes also got pieces of the action. School contractors also coughed up big political donations to help get an UNO ally elected to the Legislature last year.

Any organization big enough to get $98 million in state funds is big enough to know the public’s money must be handled with no hint of impropriety.

It was Rangel’s job to ensure that. Instead, for weeks he acted as though UNO had done no wrong. Rangel saw the insider contracts as a way to empower the Latino community and the state money as a piggy bank.

He finally changed his tune on Tuesday, saying, “I have failed” and that the insider spending was “simply not appropriate.” He also resigned from unpaid positions on the boards that oversee UNO and its charter network, and from the Public Building Commission of Chicago.

But the reforms and changes announced Tuesday, including new board members, risk accomplishing little if Rangel remains as CEO. UNO will find it hard to move forward with him at the top. It’s time for him to go.

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