Chicago Sun-Times Latest news from the Chicago Sun-Times Online en-us (Editor) Newspapers Chicago Sun-Times 84 34 30 Copyright 2014 <![CDATA[ The Watchdogs: Big profits for Pritzkers, Daley pal Jack Higgins on costly Chicago FBI deal ]]> Lead story image

THE WATCHDOGS: When the government was seeking a new Chicago FBI headquarters, it gave the deal to Jack Higgins — a friend of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley. Higgins brought in Penny Pritzker, who would go on to be a top campaign fund-raiser for President Barack Obama and is now his secretary of commerce. The $125 million FBI complex turned out to be a profitable venture for the Pritzker family and Higgins but not as good a deal for taxpayers. ]]> Tue, 16 Sep 2014 09:17:15 -0500 <![CDATA[ Pension crisis spilling over into suburbs ]]> Lead story image

Unless you’ve been living in the Deep Tunnel, you’ve probably heard the State of Illinois is facing a daunting public employee pension crisis, and Chicago — mainly its schools and municipal government — is tiptoeing around similar fiscal land mines that could blow up in the faces of retirees and taxpayers. ]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 00:16:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Straight answers from Quinn and Rauner hard to come by ]]> Lead story image

“What did the president know, and when did he know it?” That famous question, posed by Sen. Howard Baker during 1973 congressional hearings on the Nixon administration’s Watergate scandal, has been asked of political leaders embroiled in crises for the four-plus decades since then. The latest is Gov. Pat Quinn, whose administration is still reeling from an Illinois Department of Transportation hiring scandal a year after the Better Government Association broke the story. What did the governor know, and when did he know it? When we started investigating an elaborate scheme to reward political cronies by circumventing court-ordered state hiring … ]]> Sun, 07 Sep 2014 18:50:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Enough with all the Inspector Clouseaus ]]> Lead story image

Inspector General or Inspector Clouseau? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. The former is a title for a job that, done right, shines a bright enough light on a government agency and holds enough of its public officials accountable to increase honestly, efficiency, transparency and accountability. It’s a civic watchdog’s dream. The latter is the inept French detective immortalized by Peter Sellers in a series of big screen “Pink Panther” comedies. His lame antics were enough to make Sherlock Holmes turn over in his fictional grave, and serious watchdogs blanch. The two extremes come to mind following a recent … ]]> Sun, 31 Aug 2014 23:16:14 -0500 <![CDATA[ The hidden lessons from closing 50 schools ]]> Lead story image

The scrap heap of Illinois history is piled high with long-forgotten government reports. Many of them deserve their fade into tattered obscurity, but occasionally a research effort merits a bright spotlight. And that’s the case with an incisive, hard-hitting task force study — released in June by key members of the state’s General Assembly — on last year’s controversial, contentious and traumatic closing of 50 Chicago public schools, mostly in minority communities on the South and West Sides. The report doesn’t mince words, blasting the system’s handling of a shutdown unprecedented in scope, and sharply critiquing CPS management of its … ]]> Sun, 24 Aug 2014 23:28:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Don’t let animal care go to the dogs ]]> Lead story image

We had a dog when I was growing up, a spaniel named Toby that was sweet, frisky and a little neurotic, like the rest of the family. Dogs also populated our entertainment world, including “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin” on their weekly TV shows, Snoopy in the “Peanuts” comic strip and “Old Yeller” in the big-screen Disney weeper. Even the Better Government Association has a long-standing soft spot for our four-legged friends — the BGA mascot has been a bulldog for nearly a century — and we’re thinking about adopting a rescue canine to join our watchdog team. So it’s … ]]> Sun, 17 Aug 2014 17:38:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Springfield, here we come ]]> Lead story image

The Capitol in Springfield is where elected officials allocate most of our state tax dollars, make major decisions that affect our lives, and manage a government wracked with chronic fiscal and ethical problems. Springfield is also a small media market where, despite hard work and good intentions, there aren’t enough news resources to hold our state officials sufficiently accountable. Is there a connection between paragraphs one and two? I think so, and I say that after spending a professional lifetime covering and watching Illinois government and politics, much of it in Springfield, as a Chicago-based reporter with the Sun-Times, NBC … ]]> Sun, 10 Aug 2014 23:44:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ We never beg — we sue ]]> Lead story image

One of my favorite TV shows in the ‘80s was the “People’s Court,” where average citizens argued small cases in front of feisty Judge Joseph Wapner. The show inspired an entire genre of quasi-real courtroom programs that continue to populate the airwaves today with the likes of Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis and several others. As for the “People’s Court,” I can still picture emcee Doug Llewelyn advising viewers not to take the law into their own hands. “You take ‘em to court,” he’d say. And decades later, that’s our approach at the Better Government Association in disputes … ]]> Mon, 04 Aug 2014 00:58:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Doomsday Clock ticks for Illinois ]]> Lead story image

Remember the ominous “Doomsday Clock” with its symbolic “countdown” to a global disaster like nuclear war, and more recently, climate change? The clock concept dates back to University of Chicago researchers whose work during World War II led to development of the first atomic bomb. After the war a distinguished group of international scientists continued the risk analysis by calculating looming dangers once a year, and dramatizing their calibration by moving the clock’s ticking minute hand to a pre-determined time uncomfortably close to midnight, or “doomsday,” and all that implies. The setting varies year-to-year — it’s five to twelve in … ]]> Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:34:20 -0500 <![CDATA[ ‘Crash tax’ a troubling jolt for distressed drivers ]]> Lead story image

One of our jobs at the Better Government Association is to look for warning signs that suggest trouble may be on the way. And with that in mind, I point to a recent BGA investigation that sounds the alarm at a number of Chicago-area fire departments, but not because there’s an actual blaze. This alert is sparked by a growing and potentially troubling trend in emergency service that requires victims of car accidents to help fill municipal budget holes. It’s known as a “crash tax,” and it’s quietly showing up in more and more communities as fire departments struggle to … ]]> Mon, 21 Jul 2014 01:26:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Single step on long road to City Council ethics reform ]]> Lead story image

The Emanuel administration apparently made enough progress in wringing illegal politics out of hiring, firing and promotions at City Hall to finally shed the yoke of a court-appointed monitor who’s been policing personnel decisions for the past decade. Ending the federally mandated oversight, which cost Chicago taxpayers more than $20 million in legal fees and compensation for victims of the rigged employment system, is a significant reform. And it also includes the administration’s adherence to a “do-not-hire” list of former public employees declared ineligible for city jobs because they were fired or forced to resign from other branches of government … ]]> Mon, 14 Jul 2014 00:04:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Let’s hear it for citizen’s arrest of a county board ]]> Lead story image

Board members were stunned by the brazen act, and even more so when the sheriff arrived to sort out the mess and sided with the crowd — agreeing board members had violated the law by not allowing public comment. ]]> Fri, 11 Jul 2014 13:36:08 -0500 <![CDATA[ McPier taking you for a ride ]]> Lead story image

There’s a new attraction at Navy Pier — “The Big Spin” — and we’re not talking about a Ferris wheel that goes around at $7 a pop. This is a verbal fantasy ride, courtesy of Navy Pier officials, but we’re not hopping on, and you shouldn’t either. Here’s the background, courtesy of last week’s Sun-Times “Watchdog” story by Tim Novak: A government agency — the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, better known as “McPier” — oversees Navy Pier and the McCormick Place convention center. In 2011, McPier created a nonprofit — Navy Pier Inc. — to operate the Pier, but … ]]> Mon, 30 Jun 2014 00:24:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Lindblom High: A South Side success story ]]> Lead story image

A dramatic story is unfolding on Chicago’s South Side, but it’s not the one we’re most familiar with — the heartbreaking gang violence that terrorizes residents of all ages and traumatizes entire neighborhoods. This is a good news story about something that’s going right, and the lessons we can learn from the positive experience. It centers on Lindblom High School, a one-time educational gem in West Englewood that bottomed out a decade ago but came roaring back to reclaim its old glory as a beacon of opportunity for its students and staff, and a symbol of pride for its neighbors … ]]> Sun, 22 Jun 2014 23:10:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Hits and misses in Springfield’s game ]]> Lead story image

The Illinois General Assembly’s action, and inaction, resembles a grab bag gift, or the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box — you never know what you’re going to get or whether you’ll like it. So it’s no surprise that when the curtain came down on the spring session in Springfield last month, the audience was left with a few satisfied smiles, a few disappointed frowns, and one gasp of exasperation. Lawmakers passed a budget, but refused to extend the temporary income tax or cut spending, so the budget’s “balanced” with smoke and mirrors, and there’s not enough … ]]> Fri, 27 Jun 2014 13:49:18 -0500 <![CDATA[ Andy Shaw: Lobbying by ex-U.S. rep doesn’t violate law, just our trust ]]> Lead story image

Former Congressman Jerry Costello provides another example of why “revolving door” lobbying restrictions need to be tightened at every level, from local city councils to the nation’s capitol. ]]> Sun, 08 Jun 2014 23:00:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Keep shining light on government ]]> Lead story image

Here’s a big watchdog shout-out to the Illinois Supreme Court, and to Attorney General Lisa Madigan for supporting the good guys in this legal dispute. ]]> Mon, 02 Jun 2014 00:50:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Let’s squeeze bloated school districts ]]> Lead story image

Bad habits can be infectious, which may explain why Cook County government’s well-earned reputation for wasteful spending, bloated bureaucracy and resistance to change has spilled over to the county’s independent school districts. A recent Better Government Association investigation with CBS 2 found that some superintendents in the county’s suburban districts are making more than $300,000 a year in base pay for managing a handful of schools with a few thousand students. Several earn more than $200,000 for overseeing only one school. And those figures don’t include the generous benefits, bonuses and perks many of the top administrators also receive. By … ]]> Mon, 26 May 2014 00:56:00 -0500