Whenever I tell people now that I'm working at rebooting Illinois and then explain about our efforts to get more Illinoisans engaged and taking action to pay state debts, stem corruption and improve schools and the jobs situation, it doesn't take long before they say, "Well, that's a big job!" Or, "Wow, you certainly won't run out of material."
It's sad but true.
Consider just some of what we've seen in the news just in the past week or so:
1. Greg Hinz at Crain's Chicago Business reported that former state Rep and current Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey was hired by the Chicago Cubs as a lobbyist for two months this summer, even though his county board district comes close to Wrigley Field. Fritchey was hired to "advise and consult" on a bill that was awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn's signature that dealt with protecting rooftop owners from being subject to a ban on all you can drink happy hours by the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. Quinn signed the bill despite the Cubs opposition and hiring of Fritchey.
But wait just a minute. Does Fritchey perhaps have a conflict of interest in being hired to persuade people about what to do about a measure near his district when he's writing and voting on ordinances himself as a Cook County commissioner? It seems we're no longer even waiting for the door to revolve. Just go ahead and get paid to lobby and push a point of view while you're also getting paid to represent taxpayers. It's not a clear conflict of interest, I suppose, since Fritchey's district doesn't include Wrigley, but his district surely is affected by what happens around the ballpark. Cubs spokesman Julian Green told Hinz the bill was "a state issue, not a county issue."
2. Then, speaking of Cook County, remember Carla Oglesby? She was hired by then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger as his deputy chief of staff. She was convicted last week of theft and money laundering for funneling more than $300,000 in fake contracts to her own company.
Cook County Judge James Linn was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying Oglesby's theft of our taxpayer dollars was "eye-popping, disheartening and shocking." She faces six to 30 years in prison.
Part of our problem in Cook County and Illinois is that the stories come so fast and furious and so frequently, that they no longer are eye-popping. Too often, we're doing some eye rolling and clicking and scrolling to find some good news.
3. How about Tuesday, when we were reminded that perhaps no one better knows how to take advantage of the law than those who help write them. Chicago Tribune reporter Ray Long delved into the dealings of former state Rep. Connie Howard, 70, who resigned as a legislator while working on a plea deal with the feds when she was caught misusing scholarship and state grant money she'd raised and collected that was supposed to have gone to help students cover education costs. Here's the kicker: The timing of her legislative resignation and her plea deal allowed her to keep collecting a state pension. "As the talks about pleading guilty continued and the months went by," Long reported, "Howard was able to legally pocket $57,000 from her legislative pension. And she can continue picking up another $4,750 a month from the nation's worst-funded state retirement system until a federal judge sentences her on Nov. 21."
Long also revisited similar cases wherein former top operative Bill Cellini and former state Rep. Roger "The Hog" Stanley were allowed to keep collecting pensions for work they'd done that could not be tied directly to the crimes for which they were convicted.
Those examples prompted former state Senator and new chairman of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Susan Garrett to say it's time to change the rules. Anyone guilty of public corruption should lose any and all taxpayer-supported pension funds, Garrett told Long.
Now there's a concept I'm guessing a lot of taxpayers can support. But how many legislators can we get to go along? And what about a rule banning current government employees from also working as lobbyists for any government?
There are some good ideas out there that can work. But the job of watchdogging and demanding the changes from elected officials who can sometimes benefit from the status quo takes long, sustained effort. Stay up on the latest schemes and scams. Don't eye roll, click and scroll to something else. Stay informed and engaged. We're here to help you with that. Let's all keep demanding better. Even if there is no instant relief or gratification.
Are you ready to demand an end to corruption, conflicts of interest and too much nepotism? Put your name to our petition and let's work on solutions together.
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