Chicago Sun-Times Latest news from the Chicago Sun-Times Online en-us (Editor) Newspapers Chicago Sun-Times 84 34 30 Copyright 2014 <![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 … ]]> Mon, 28 Jul 2014 00:32:00 -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 <![CDATA[ 5th anniversary of anti-corruption campaign isn’t cause for celebration ]]> Lead story image

This spring marks the fifth anniversary of a valiant campaign to eliminate the “culture of corruption” that’s ripped off Illinois taxpayers and citizens for decades. Sadly, it’s not a celebration because it didn’t produce enough government reform. But it’s worth remembering because it’s still an important cause, and there’s so much left to do. Let’s go back to the spring of 2009: One former governor, George Ryan, is still in prison for corruption; his disgraced successor, Rod Blagojevich, is impeached and indicted; and Illinois is a national laughingstock. Blago’s scurrilous behavior, which includes a depraved attempt to “sell” President-elect Barack … ]]> Mon, 19 May 2014 00:42:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Lisa Madigan’s silent treatment ]]> Lead story image

Between the brutal winters and the endless corruption, Illinois residents aren’t feeling much love for the Land of Lincoln these days. In a recent Gallup poll, only 28 percent said they trust our state government — by far the worst no-confidence vote in the country. And half would like to leave Illinois, more than any other state. Watchdogs like the Better Government Association can’t improve the climate, but we can fight corruption by shining a light on our public officials and holding them accountable. That was our goal in a recent investigation with FOX 32 of Illinois Attorney General Lisa … ]]> Sat, 10 May 2014 23:10:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Patronage abuse bipartisan in Illinois ]]> Lead story image

Those of us who’ve spent our professional lives reporting on the patronage abuses of local Democratic machine bosses, and covering attorney Michael Shakman’s long legal battle to curb them, tend to forget the problem is not unique to Chicago and Cook County. Republicans politicize hiring, firing and promotion decisions with the same ruthless efficiency in their suburban and Downstate fiefdoms, and in Springfield the perpetrators mostly come from the party that controls the governor’s office. Last year the Better Government Association revealed that clout hiring has been rampant under Gov. Pat Quinn’s watch at the Illinois Department of Transportation, despite … ]]> Sat, 03 May 2014 19:48:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ No substitute for serious news coverage ]]> Lead story image

This is how Rachel Maddow introduced a guest on her nightly cable news show in January: “Any time you see a story on national TV that starts in a small town, odds are the story began with local reporters who would not give up, and who reported it right and aggressively, even though it always stirs stuff up on their hometown beat.” She was welcoming Shawn Boburg, the reporter whose “scoop” about politically motivated lane closings disguised as a “traffic study” stirred up enough “stuff” to earn its own moniker — “Bridgegate” — the scandal that complicates New Jersey Gov. … ]]> Sun, 27 Apr 2014 17:40:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Illinois morbidly obese with thousands of governments ]]> Lead story image

The Illinois legislature’s “diet doctor” is asking his fattest patients to swallow a bitter streamlining pill and, as you might expect, the Rx is meeting a lot of resistance. I’m talking about Rep. Jack Franks’ attempt to downsize a public sector that’s morbidly obese. Illinois, as I’ve mentioned before, has nearly 7,000 separate units of government, which is 2,000 — or 40 percent — more than any other state. Many reformers, including Franks and the Better Government Association, argue it’s time to eliminate some units and consolidate others to provide more efficient services at a lower cost to taxpayers. That’s … ]]> Sun, 20 Apr 2014 17:30:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Crime victims deserve voice on police torture commission ]]> Lead story image

It’s been more than three decades since one of Chicago’s most brutal murders. On an August night in 1983, two men entered a West Rogers Park home through a window, murdered Dean Pueschel, and raped and murdered his wife, JoEllen Heinrich Pueschel. Their 11-year-old son, Ricky, was stabbed, beaten with his own baseball bat, and left for dead. Amazingly, he survived. Last year, the Pueschel and Heinrich families had to revisit the nightmare when the case against Jerry Mahaffey, one of the men convicted of the crime, was sent back to court by the state commission that reviews brutality allegations … ]]> Sat, 05 Apr 2014 18:52:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Want to hear about term limits? Here’s your chance ]]> Lead story image

A few months after I joined the Better Government Association in 2009, one of our most civically and politically engaged board members, Chicago lawyer Scott Hodes, urged me to make the issue of term limits for elected officials in Illinois a cause célèbre for the BGA. He argued it was an easy reform for the general public to understand, and polling indicated strong support from a vast majority of Illinois voters who were clearly fed up with rampant government corruption and dysfunction. Hodes also viewed term limits as a perfect soapbox for our then-struggling watchdog organization to stand on for … ]]> Mon, 31 Mar 2014 00:34:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Put super-sized state government on diet ]]> Lead story image

The Illinois primary is history, and sadly, also historic — a record low voter turnout in the Chicago area of less than 20 percent — in part because nearly 80 percent of the non-judicial races were uncontested, and a lack of competition apparently produced a lack of interest. So an obvious challenge for those of us who consider civic engagement a key component of a healthy democracy is to encourage more people to run for office, and more people to vote. That means, among other things, reforming the electoral process, and we’re on it. The push for a healthier democracy … ]]> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:53:49 -0500