Chicago Sun-Times Latest news from the Chicago Sun-Times Online en-us (Editor) Newspapers Chicago Sun-Times 84 34 30 Copyright 2014 <![CDATA[ Bobby Rush conflicts point to need for ethics training ]]> Lead story image

In my wildest dreams — cynics might call them my worst nightmares — the Better Government Association has a hundred employees, a budget of $20 million a year and a full service watchdog operation that shines a light on our most dystopian government center: The federal bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. Sadly, we’re not there yet, and may never be, but we are watching Washington, in an Illinois-centric way, by following the flow of federal dollars to our home state, and holding the officials we send to the White House and Capitol Hill accountable. The most visible sign of our commitment … ]]> Mon, 15 Dec 2014 09:08:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Why police clashes go on and on ]]> Lead story image

One of my early assignments at the Better Government Association was to cover the first Blagojevich trial in 2010 for the BGA website, and to provide analysis on TV, radio and in print. I followed the daily developments — the outrageously entertaining histrionics of the defendant and his entourage, and the damning X-rated audio tapes — but I also framed the trial as a “teaching moment” that gave watchdogs like the BGA an opportunity to assess the former governor’s misconduct in the context of Illinois’ sad history of corruption, and desperate need of reform. What laws could be strengthened or … ]]> Mon, 08 Dec 2014 00:54:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Say hello to Watson the Watchdog ]]> Lead story image

Is the Better Government Association going to the dogs? A few public officials might say that, especially after we shine a bright light on them and hold them accountable for unethical behavior or dubious policy decisions that affect our lives and tax dollars. But in this case I’m talking about going to the dogs literally, not figuratively, as in: Adopting a watchdog as our mascot. It makes perfect sense when you consider the symbol of the BGA mission, since its inception in 1923 — that’s 91 years ago — has been a bulldog. Our staff has been talking for a … ]]> Tue, 02 Dec 2014 10:03:13 -0600 <![CDATA[ Force not with public on Lucas Museum ]]> Lead story image

A funny thing happened on the way to a recent BGA Idea Forum entitled, “What’s the Force Behind the Lucas Museum?” “The Force” wasn’t with us. Even though the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is among the most elaborate projects Chicago’s ever entertained, no one from city government accepted our invitation to show up and discuss it. Nobody. No one. Zilch. This is the same museum Mayor Rahm Emanuel is unabashedly in favor of building on the city’s lakefront, which is sparking strong opposition and now a lawsuit aimed at blocking it. But the mayor opted not to send … ]]> Sun, 23 Nov 2014 18:18:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Protect your right to dig for the truth ]]> Lead story image

Bad ideas, unlike fine wine, don’t get better with age. And that’s especially true of HB 3796, a bill that would weaken FOIA, the state’s Freedom of Information Act. It was a bad idea when it breezed through the Illinois House and Senate in May with little explanation or debate. So a coalition that included the Better Government Association and the Illinois attorney general’s office asked Gov. Quinn to veto the measure, which he did in June. But here we are, on the eve of the fall veto session in Springfield, and there’s a movement afoot to override the governor’s … ]]> Sun, 16 Nov 2014 22:44:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Join us, Gov, to talk about ethics and finances ]]> Lead story image

Dear Governor-elect Rauner, Please join us at a Better Government Association luncheon in Springfield on Tuesday, Nov. 18, for a conversation about fiscal and ethical reform in Illinois. I’ll give you the details in a minute, but first, congratulations on your victory, after a bruising campaign that consumed a lot of energy, airtime and money, much of it your own. It was the most expensive governor’s race in Illinois history —nearly $100 million — but it turned on a simple fact: A majority of voters want a new approach to running the state, and you promised one. Now the campaign … ]]> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:56:01 -0600 <![CDATA[ Suburbs need a clean-up crew ]]> Lead story image

When I joined the Better Government Association in 2009, the venerable watchdog organization was still shining most of its light on the public officials in charge of Chicago and Cook County, where decades of government corruption turned those geographic entities into caricatures with ignominious monikers like “Clout City” and “Crook County.” City and county administrations have taken significant steps to shed those pejorative labels in recent years, and that’s commendable, but they still need to be closely watched, and we’re on it. But waste, fraud and misconduct don’t stop at the doors of City Hall and the County Building, so … ]]> Sun, 02 Nov 2014 23:44:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ It takes an army — of voters — to get good government ]]> Lead story image

The best political campaigns generally have two components: A good candidate with a strong message, and a solid organization that takes the candidate and the message to the voters, hoping they’ll cast an affirming ballot. Civic campaigns, including the fight for better government, also have to be waged on two fronts to be successful. Watchdogs like the Better Government Association can urge public officials to manage our hard-earned tax dollars honestly and efficiently, which we relentlessly do in a variety of ways. But citizens have to do their part by paying attention to the issues and voting for candidates who … ]]> Sun, 26 Oct 2014 20:04:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Cicero trashes good government ]]> Lead story image

Cicero is back in the news, and not the famous Roman orator or the avenue in Chicago. This is another story about the west suburban town that’s been famous for being infamous since mobster Al Capone lived there in the 1920s. The Better Government Association recently reported that a suburban waste processing company has contributed big bucks to political funds controlled by Cicero’s Town President, Larry Dominick. The firm, Heartland Recycling LLC, is a longtime Cicero contractor that’s been paid more than $15 million since Dominick was elected in 2005 And the whole thing has a bad smell to it. … ]]> Sun, 19 Oct 2014 17:38:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Clout contractor got $3.1M in CPS work after City Hall ban ]]> Lead story image

THE WATCHDOGS: Two years ago, the city banned Windy City Electric Co. from getting any more business over allegations it fraudulently landed millions in contracts set aside for companies owned by women. But the ban didn’t keep the politically connected contractor from getting more than $3 million in new work from the Chicago Public Schools. ]]> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 06:03:24 -0600 <![CDATA[ Quinn weatherization, jobs program falling short of goals ]]> Lead story image

THE WATCHDOGS: Illinois legislators created the Urban Weatherization Initiative in 2009, promising that as much as $425 million in taxpayer money would go to train workers in predominantly African-American neighborhoods to identify and fix energy-efficiency problems in homes. Five years later, the program has fallen far short of its goals, records and interviews show. ]]> Fri, 14 Nov 2014 06:03:25 -0600 <![CDATA[ Fighting public corruption — over lunch ]]> Lead story image

Lunch is a lot more than a midday meal when you run a nonprofit watchdog organization like the Better Government Association. In our world it’s an important opportunity to explain our mission to potential supporters. And once a year, in the fall, we invite our friends to break bread with us at an annual luncheon, where we recap our work over the past 12 months, spell out our goals for the next year, and thank them for contributing the dollars that make it possible. In recent years more than a thousand people have attended the events, which raise a third … ]]> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 00:38:00 -0600 <![CDATA[ Gov’s race spirals into fantasyland ]]> Lead story image

One of television’s hottest dramas is playing out daily right here in Illinois. No, it’s not “The Good Wife,” “Shameless” or “Chicago Fire,” and “Breaking Bad” isn’t coming back with a Windy City setting. I’m talking about the rock `m sock `m, neck-and-neck race for governor, starring Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn, Republican nominee Bruce Rauner, and a deluge of attack ads they’ve been bombarding us and each other with for months. Curiously, the ads borrow heavily from the worlds of cartoons and literary fiction — genres where political campaigns don’t typically get their broadcast ammunition. In one TV spot the … ]]> Mon, 06 Oct 2014 03:10:28 -0600 <![CDATA[ Runway flap brewing at Chicago Executive Airport in northwest suburbs ]]> Lead story image

With O’Hare Airport expansion well underway, one runway battle is over, but now another is brewing in the northwest suburbs, where a study is being done that could result in expansion at Chicago Executive Airport, the former Palwaukee Municipal Airport. ]]> Thu, 13 Nov 2014 06:11:56 -0600 <![CDATA[ Time to grade mayor’s performance ]]> Lead story image

Where does the time go? It’s been more than three years since we sat down with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to review the promises and progress of his first 100 days in office in an interview that was broadcast live on the Better Government Association’s website. You can still find the conversation on our YouTube channel. Emanuel discussed his plans for improving schools and fighting crime, answered questions submitted by viewers, and fielded a few of my inquiries, including a timetable for keeping a campaign pledge to extend the authority of the city’s inspector general to the “sister agencies” that … ]]> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:09:53 -0600 <![CDATA[ CPS hiding records from the BGA and you ]]> Lead story image

Public schools have several FOIA exemptions — certain personnel and student performance information, for example — but most of their records are also our records. And when someone submits a FOIA request, the public agency generally has five business days to comply. But CPS regularly breaks the rules. ]]> Mon, 22 Sep 2014 00:30:00 -0600 <![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 -0600 <![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. ]]> Thu, 16 Oct 2014 06:04:26 -0600