Rob Grant is retiring from the FBI to take a security job with Disney. But even as he trades the toxic “Chicago Way” for the antiseptic “Disney Way,” the man who ran the bureau’s local office for seven years will always be remembered for this sagacious sound bite after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested in December 2008:
“If Illinois isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States it’s certainly one hell of a competitor.”
Grant could have substituted “Maywood” for “Illinois” and “village” for “state” and been equally astute.
Because the mid-size suburb just west of Chicago is about as dysfunctional as a unit of government can be.
The Better Government Association has sued Maywood twice for refusing or dragging out Freedom of Information Act requests for public documents — including a subpoena the village recently received from the Cook County State’s attorney — and helped residents find pro bono attorneys to file their own lawsuits in pursuit of basic village information.
The BGA also has conducted investigations into alleged:
- Cronyism, corruption and mismanagement in the Maywood Housing Authority.
- Misuse of police officers to chauffeur and guard village officials instead of protecting residents.
- Conflicts of interest by Mayor Henderson Yarbrough and his wife, State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, whose family businesses ended up with questionable government contracts.
In addition, the village failed to pay the City of Chicago more than a million dollars in overdue water bills.
And, as the BGA and Fox Chicago reported earlier this month, Maywood still hasn’t solved the 2006 murder of Police Officer Tom Wood. Cops typically double down to solve the murder of a colleague. But this case not only remains unsolved, it has been plagued by so many errors and irregularities that some observers wonder if the killer will ever be brought to justice.
A possible suspect was allowed to wander around the crime scene unattended; a friend of Wood’s who saw him with a stranger a week before the murder was never interviewed; evidence stored at the Maywood police station was soaked in a flood; Maywood Police and outside investigators routinely sparred over the direction of the probe, and a $100,000 reward was allowed to dry up and only restored after the BGA and Fox began making inquiries.
The case was handled so haphazardly that some of Wood’s friends and relatives wondered openly whether the investigation was purposely compromised.
Political corruption wastes our tax dollars and tears at the fabric of our community, but law enforcement corruption jeopardizes our public safety and undermines our sense of well-being.
It’s visceral, and Wood’s widow, Helene, says her late husband and the community deserve better: “If they can kill a police officer, where are their limits?”
She’s right. Maywood’s 24,000 residents are predominately African American, and they’ve been putting up with this unacceptable government behavior for too long.
An outside agency such as the State Police or the Illinois Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney needs to pick up the homicide investigation.
And the “usual suspects” who run the village need serious competition from reform-minded residents in next year’s municipal election.
Maywood’s motto is “Village of Eternal Light.”
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 386-9097.