Chicago Sun-Times Latest news from the Chicago Sun-Times Online en-us (Editor) Newspapers Chicago Sun-Times 84 34 30 Copyright 2014 <![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 … ]]> Sun, 23 Mar 2014 02:31:49 -0500 <![CDATA[ Readers explain why people don’t vote ]]> Lead story image

Last week’s column on civic “disengagement” — my term for the millions of Illinois residents who aren’t registered to vote in Tuesday’s primary, or won’t bother to cast a ballot even if they are eligible —prompted interesting emails from readers who are definitely engaged. One lament comes from James Byrne, who writes: “There is no real civics in this country. Don’t forget, as stated by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, more people can give you the names of the `3 Stooges’ than can name the three branches of government.” Ouch! Byrne also blames the epic lack of participation … ]]> Sat, 15 Mar 2014 21:44:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Get ready for another miserable voter turnout ]]> Lead story image

America’s first National Voter Registration Day came and went last September with the visibility and impact of a gnat on an elephant’s back. The admirable goal of the organizers was to use rallies, teach-ins and celebrity media spots and appearances to highlight the little-known fact that nearly 50 million voting-age Americans aren’t registered, including more than 2 million here in Illinois. Let me repeat that staggering figure: 50 million unregistered voters in what is arguably the world’s strongest democracy. In 2010, 6 million of the unregistered told national census-takers they would have voted in the presidential election two years earlier … ]]> Thu, 10 Apr 2014 06:28:42 -0500 <![CDATA[ Sounding alarm on Fire Department weaknesses ]]> Lead story image

The Chicago Fire Department is a city agency the Better Government Association watches closely, and with good reason — emergency work saves lives when it’s done well, and imperils them when it’s not. Our latest investigation of the CFD, which looked at lengthy ambulance response times, appears to be a prime example of the latter, and it cries out for immediate attention from the Emanuel administration before there’s a tragedy that could be prevented. The BGA and CBS2 reported recently that, in January, a two-ton postal truck hit a woman right outside City Hall. It took 16 minutes for an … ]]> Mon, 03 Mar 2014 12:10:19 -0500 <![CDATA[ Nail down where candidates stand ]]> Lead story image

The Better Government Association doesn’t endorse or rate political candidates, participate in election campaigns or back Democrats, Republicans or any other party. As a non-partisan, non-profit watchdog organization, that’s not what we’re about, so we leave the political analysis to others. Our mission is to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable through our investigations, lawsuits, civic engagement and advocacy work. But we do ask candidates running for office to be honest and open about where they stand on key issues — especially one that’s near and dear to our watchdog hearts: Reforming Illinois government, which has … ]]> Sun, 23 Feb 2014 17:10:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ How to avoid another bad parking meter deal ]]> Lead story image

This apocalyptic winter has been a painful reminder that Chicago periodically resembles the North Pole. But fortunately, when mountains of snow block our streets and alleys, we can call an alderman to demand a city plow. And when we’re tired of bone-rattling rides over pothole-riddled streets, we can dial 311 to request a city fill-in crew. Responses may not be prompt, but at least we’re not powerless. Sadly, that’s not the case when we’re dealing with hyper-enforcement of the city’s privatized parking meters, which are more frustrating at times than the polar vortex. It won’t do any good to call … ]]> Sat, 15 Feb 2014 21:40:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Reagan’s home town ducked disaster ]]> Lead story image

Plans are underway in the town of Dixon, a hundred miles west of Chicago, for a third — yes, a third — statue of its most prominent native son, former President Ronald Reagan. This one will depict “Dutch” as a summer lifeguard, where, according to local lore, he helped save 77 lives from 1926 to 1932. These days, Dixon is dealing with a different kind of rescue — one that is saving the community of 15,000 from drowning financially. Two years ago investigators discovered Dixon had been pillaged by the largest and longest-running local government embezzlement scheme in memory. Beginning … ]]> Sat, 08 Feb 2014 18:12:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ When government gets it right ]]> Lead story image

One of the questions I fielded most often when I joined the Better Government Association in 2009 was this one: Why don’t you highlight more examples of good government — public officials and agencies that deliver services honestly, transparently and efficiently? My answer, initially, went like this: We pay for good government with our tax dollars — it’s what we deserve and have a right to expect — so there’s no reason to highlight it. I argued that our job, as anti-corruption watchdogs, is to shine a light on bad government when it wastes, abuses and misuses our tax dollars, … ]]> Sat, 01 Feb 2014 21:22:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Watchdog to-do list for 2014 ]]> Lead story image

It’s “show time” again in Springfield — Gov. Pat Quinn kicks off the new legislative session with a State of the State speech on Wednesday — and what a difference a couple of months can make. The unexpected success of the fall veto session and the politics of an election year offer genuine hope for a productive 2014. In December, lawmakers passed a major pension reform bill, and whether or not you like the details, the rating agencies are pleased, and the courts will have the last word on its constitutionality. The General Assembly also legalized marriage equality, which settles … ]]> Thu, 27 Feb 2014 06:26:29 -0500 <![CDATA[ A charity donation can be hinky, too ]]> Lead story image

Let’s say a trustee on the board of a public pension plan is running for political office, and solicits campaign contributions from the fund’s investment advisers — firms the trustee has the power to hire or fire. That could be viewed as blatantly unethical — at best, a conflict of interest, at worst, a version of “pay to play.” But what if, instead of a campaign fund, the trustee asks vendors to donate to a pet charity? If the money goes to a good cause, does that make the solicitation OK? Not necessarily, and a recent Better Government Association investigation … ]]> Sat, 18 Jan 2014 20:58:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ When a teen plays cop ]]> Lead story image

The teenage son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba was too young to vote, buy a beer or work as a deputy in his father’s cop shop. But that didn’t stop the sheriff’s department from helping Patrick Zaruba, then a 17-year-old high school student, access a law enforcement database with information about every licensed driver in Illinois, as well as potentially sensitive intelligence on gangs, firearms, fugitives and more. Those were the findings of a 2012 investigation by the Better Government Association and CBS2, which also reported Patrick was allowed to ride along with on-duty deputies, and participate in arrests … ]]> Sat, 11 Jan 2014 20:46:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Don’t give this county crowd another buck ]]> Lead story image

Dorothy Brown’s 13-year reign as Cook County’s Circuit Court Clerk gets mixed reviews, but two things are pretty evident: She’s bold, and politically connected. Bold enough to push legislation in Springfield that would raise about $13 million a year by adding $20 to the per-case filing fee, despite ongoing questions by the Better Government Association and other watchdogs about piles of patronage, forgotten files and curious contracts and contacts. And connected enough to get it passed, so it’s now awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature. But a curious thing happened along the way: The influential 22,000-member Chicago Bar Association, which traditionally … ]]> Mon, 06 Jan 2014 10:08:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Top Ten investigations of 2013 ]]> Lead story image

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. … ]]> Sun, 29 Dec 2013 21:26:01 -0500 <![CDATA[ Rep. Rush should face ethics probe ]]> Lead story image

Some of you may have read or heard about a Better Government Association investigation of U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times last weekend. It raised serious concerns about Rush’s inability to recall basic facts and justify his actions on a variety on financial fronts — personal, political and charitable. The troubling findings include: ◆ Rush’s South Side campaign office may not have paid rent for more than a decade, in possible violation of federal law. What’s more, he’s using campaign money to subsidize a church he runs on the South Side. ◆ Charities affiliated with … ]]> Sun, 22 Dec 2013 21:16:00 -0500 <![CDATA[ Pension reform nowhere done ]]> Lead story image

Public employees, past and present, consider the financial sacrifices they’re being asked to swallow in the state’s pension deal an unconstitutional betrayal by the Illinois lawmakers who supported the bill. And on the other side of the issue, many fiscal conservatives claim the bill doesn’t go far enough to put the pension plans back on solid financial footing. But the legislation does include three important reforms that both sides should appreciate because, over time, they’ll eliminate abuses, close loopholes, and restore a measure of fairness and integrity to the pension systems. The reforms are designed to: ◆ End public pensions … ]]> Tue, 17 Dec 2013 13:11:36 -0500 <![CDATA[ Pensions, politics and peccadilloes ]]> Lead story image

The big pension story last week was Springfield’s long-overdue passage of a comprehensive reform plan that includes a fiscal fix and some key anti-abuse provisions. That’s huge. Now it’s off to court to see if the plan is constitutional. And then to resuscitate some of the other ailing pension systems around the state, including Chicago’s police, fire and school retirement funds. So there’s still a lot more work to do. And there are enough additional pension peccadilloes to make a watchdog’s skin crawl, including the controversy surrounding Gray & Company founder Larry Gray, whose firm advises the Chicago Transit Authority’s … ]]> Sun, 08 Dec 2013 18:50:01 -0500