May 25, 2012 09:35 AM
The Wild, Wild West
A Melrose Park cop sues the western suburb in federal court, claiming racial discrimination and accusing police brass of ignoring misconduct – including allegations of cops soliciting a prostitute, shooting a squad car and stealing a golf cart.
The Melrose Park Police Department has been on our radar for months, thanks to a deputy chief whose side business was selling uniforms and radios to his own agency – without bids.
But our antenna was raised even higher by a new federal lawsuit filed by a Melrose Park cop against the western suburb’s municipal government. If even half the allegations are true, wow.
Consider this excerpt:
[An] officer in a dispute over services with a prostitute made a 911 call to cause his fellow Melrose Park officers to assist him in forcing the prostitute to give him back the $100.00 that he had given her, yet the Village did not take action against the officer. In another case, an officer shot his police car; two more committed a burglary making off with a golf cart; but yet no action by the Village.
The officer suing, Phillip Negron, also alleges racial discrimination due to his Latino heritage.
We can’t speak to the veracity of the accusations, and village officials did not have much to say in response ("It’s pending litigation," a spokesman said.) But we know all too well that Melrose Park’s government is, in many ways, trapped in the past and needs to professionalize and modernize.
Curious Contract In Cal City
It was once known as "Sin City" – a place where officials allowed gambling, prostitution and illegal alcohol sales to flourish.
Calumet City no longer has such a seedy reputation.
But questionable acts of a different sort still occur – like the contract the south suburb’s city council gave to an accounting firm owned by city Finance Director John Kasperek.
Employees at Kasperek’s firm have been paid in the past to help the city with its accounting but more help was needed – hence the contract – beginning in October 2010 because "we lost some key personnel" and were "behind on our audits," says Mayor Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush, who once helped run a political fund with Kasperek. (She and city council members have collectively accepted more than $23,000 in campaign donations from Kasperek and his company since 2007, state records show.)
In 2011, the contract’s first year, payments to Kasperek’s firm jumped more than 60 percent to $359,967, from $221,544 the previous year, according to public records.
Kasperek is a contractor, not a full-time employee of Cal City, so the payments reflect work performed by him and his eponymous firm’s workers.
The company has been paid nearly $1.3 million since 2007, public records show.
Qualkinbush defended the contract and says she sees nothing wrong with hiring a firm owned by the city’s finance director. But amid questions from the BGA she acknowledged it was time for a change.
"There’s some hefty numbers there," she says. "It was meant to be a temporary contract with these folks. It’s my recommendation that we terminate it."
Kasperek released a statement that said in part: "The accounting work provided was necessary and required by the mayor and city council."
Look Beyond Our Borders
Chicago’s had a lot of dedicated U.S. attorneys over the years who attacked public corruption aggressively, but Patrick Fitzgerald is generally acknowledged to be a cut above the rest for a very simple reason: He was a New Yorker with no skin in the game – no connection to either political party in Illinois and no relationship with any of the power brokers. That means the close calls – the marginal cases that straddle the line between small "c" corruption, which is bad behavior, and big "C" corruption, which is illegal, got decided on the merits, not the politics. And that’s vitally important in a city and a state with such an ingrained "culture of corruption."
The "Chicago Way" and the "Illinois Way" are the wrong way, Fitzgerald understood that and it was a guiding principle in his prosecutorial decisions. Sen. Dick Durbin, who will be recommending a replacement to President Obama, can do Illinois taxpayers a big favor by seriously considering another corruption-buster from outside the state, or some of the top Fitzgerald lieutenants who spent enough time with the Brooklyn guy to say "fuggedabout it" when power brokers try to put the pressure on.
Cleaning Up In West Suburbs
As executive director of the Wheaton Sanitary District, Steve Maney says he is paid $152,360 a year "to treat sewage and keep the streets clean."
That salary is in addition to health insurance, an annual car allowance of $6,000 and the possibility of a public pension down the road. Maney also is slated to receive a $13,000 bonus this fiscal year, a slight increase over the previous year’s $12,550.
Bonuses are common on Wall Street. But in the public sector? Not so much.
Maney says it was the decision of the district board, which is appointed by the DuPage County Board chairman. "I didn’t ask for it," he says. "What was I going to do – say no?"
Board member Bob Hesterman says the bonus is tied to Maney’s performance as the head of a little-known governmental agency that treats wastewater for 62,000 DuPage County residents. "We’re extremely happy with him," he says.
Wonder how many other public employees out that way have happy bosses throwing bonuses their way?
This column, a new feature in the Chicago Sun-Times called Public Eye, was written and reported by the BGA’s Andy Shaw, Andrew Schroedter and Robert Herguth. They can be reached at (312) 821-9030 or email@example.com.