Time for loudmouths to get better trained
Kristen McQueary email@example.com | (708) 633-5972 February 25, 2011 6:30PM
Tammy Raynor (seated), of Lockport, who helped uncover the licenses for bribes scandal in the Illinois secretary of state's office under George Ryan, was appointed by Secretary of State Jesse White (standing) to the inspector general's office. | File phot
Better Government Association Citizen Watchdog Training
6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday
Joliet Junior College, 1215 Houbolt Road
Building D, Room 2002
For more information and to register, call (312) 821-9026
Updated: January 23, 2012 12:31AM
Citizen watchdogs: You know who you are.
You care deeply about the basic principles of transparent government and public service. You attend government meetings, perhaps taking a seat on a regular basis toward the side of the dais. You know more about your town’s DNA — its traffic patterns, crime problems, development disputes, tax levies, elected trustees and the relationships among them — than all of your neighbors.
The elected officials in your town tolerate your interest in their business, but they push back if they feel threatened by your involvement.
You often feel frustrated by the lack of community action. The hearing room where you sit a few evenings a month — foregoing a night of “American Idol” television viewing — mostly is empty. People would rather not bother with the workings of government, except to complain come election time.
And yet, your tax dollars and those of your neighbors’ are divided and spent in the very room where no one watches. The local newspaper reporter might be there, but even bold headlines often do not spur citizens into action.
The Better Government Association knows this, and so it created a free program to train citizen watchdogs.
The traveling entourage comes Wednesday to Joliet. From 6 to 8 p.m. at Joliet Junior College, professional journalists and citizen watchdogs will offer nuts and bolts suggestions to become more effective watchdogs.
Andy Shaw, an award-winning Chicago journalist who spent 37 years covering local, state and national politics, business, education and day-to-day news at the City News Bureau of Chicago, Chicago Sun-Times, WMAQ-TV (Channel 5) and WLS-TV (Channel 7), joined the BGA in June 2009 and now is the organization’s president and CEO.
The BGA offers a “wall” on its Web site, www.bettergov.org, to collect data from its citizen soldiers.
A citizen watchdog training session last week featured Brian Costin, of Schaumburg, who launched a successful crusade against red-light cameras and uncovered wasteful spending in his town. He now is running for Schaumburg mayor.
“You don’t have to be a professional journalist. Regular citizens can become government watchdogs,” Costin said from his job as director of outreach for the Illinois Policy Institute, a think tank organization.
I consider myself a citizen watchdog, and I know many fellow watchdogs in the Southland. Before covering politics exclusively, I regularly covered government bodies including Frankfort, New Lenox, Mokena, the Will County Board and the Cook County Board.
Often, the attendees at 7 p.m. meetings included elected officials, a retired guy and me. That was it. We could have played musical chairs with all the empties.
But it is often whistleblowers, not the media exclusively, who create change.
Tammy Raynor, of Lockport, recently spoke at one of the BGA training sessions. Her persistence as an employee in the Illinois secretary of state’s office led to dozens of arrests in the licenses-for-bribes scandal under George Ryan. Raynor now works for Jesse White as an inspector general.
She doesn’t regret her outspokenness or her tenacity. She withstood many attempts by her superiors to silence and discredit her. But she didn’t shut up.
Neither should you.
As I often remind myself: Loudmouths make the world go ’round.