Shaw: Sometimes, they get things right
By Andy Shaw Guest Commentary December 4, 2012 9:12PM
Gov. Pat Quinn, with members of the Illinois General Assembly, signed a new law to abolish the practice of awarding political scholarships in Illinois. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: January 6, 2013 9:57AM
Government watchdogs sniff out a lot of bad behavior by public officials — some intentional, some inadvertent — and while many of the culprits ignore the disclosures, others with the power to correct the situation do just that.
So, in the spirit of the season, we’re giving out holiday bouquets to those who advanced the cause of government reform following Better Government Association investigations, regardless of their motivation.
We extend congratulations to:
The Illinois General Assembly. It took a while, decades actually, and media coverage of some notable abuses, but state lawmakers finally did the right thing by eliminating the much-criticized legislative scholarship program, in which they could award free rides every year, often to the children of friends, donors and political pals. They actually gave up a popular perk because of its misuse, which is something we don’t see very often in Illinois.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He canceled hundreds of credit cards that city employees were using to enhance their comfort and lifestyle, not serve the public. Flowers, gifts, airline and hotel upgrades, pricey meals — even paying traffic tickets. The mayor’s move will save taxpayers millions in unnecessary expenditures.
Gov. Pat Quinn. The governor has been known to change his mind on major issues, but when it comes to gambling expansion he has consistently opposed bad bets approved by the Legislature. Quinn vetoed a bill with overblown revenue projections, ethical shortcomings and potentially harmful taxpayer exposure on a Chicago casino plan. Hopefully, the next gambling bill will reflect his legitimate concerns.
Illinois Sen. Kirk Dillard. He persuaded the Senate to overturn one of Illinois’ more blatant pension abuse schemes, a one-off law that allowed a former Oak Brook police chief to sweeten his pension by $30,000 a year while sticking Oak Brook taxpayers with a tab of at least $750,000. The bill stalled in the House when Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) questioned its legality, so a new version is being drafted. All aboard, Mr. Speaker.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. In January, she launched an internal audit to see if county departments were properly listing employee job descriptions and salaries in their budgets. This followed disclosure of serious irregularities in the county treasurer’s office, including more than $343,000 in questionable salaries for staffers whose job titles had little or nothing to do with the work they actually performed. Audit results are due out shortly and should make for some interesting reading.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin. He reacted to stories about efficiency and accountability shortcomings in the county government by cutting the budget and pledging to eliminate overlapping and unnecessary taxing bodies. Good start.
The Chicago Public Schools. CPS canceled annual payouts of $30 million to employees for unused sick days and saved additional tax dollars by renegotiating a “sour” milk contract that had been awarded to a clout-heavy company. A-plus on both.
The Lansing Village Board. Trustees finally eliminated a retiree pension sweetener that village taxpayers couldn’t afford, even if it made sense decades ago. Better late than never.
We at the BGA don’t always agree with these public servants and others. In fact, we frequently criticize their governing decisions.
But it’s important, and it’s right, to acknowledge some magic moments when public officials put the public ahead of themselves.
Andy Shaw is president and chief executive of the Better Government Association.
He can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 386-9097.