“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
That 19th century quote from the Scottish poet Sir Walter Scott came to mind recently when a familiar name from a political past closer to home, 87-year-old Morgan Finley, surfaced in a Better Government Association investigation of financial questions about a little-known public agency in west suburban Lyons Township.
Finley, a protege of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, cut his political teeth in Daley’s 11th Ward Democratic organization; served in the Illinois General Assembly, and was Cook County Circuit Court Clerk in the 1970s.
His high-visibility career ended with a 1989 conviction and jail sentence for racketeering and attempted extortion — taking bribes to steer government work to a favored company — but by then he had already established a new political base as the low-visibility, patronage-rich Lyons Township Democratic committeeman.
We came across Finley’s name in our investigation of the Lyons Township School Treasurer’s Office and the man who ran it for decades, Robert Healy.
The office manages and invests more than $200 million a year for a dozen school districts in the western suburbs.
Healy, who was the agency’s appointed treasurer, recently resigned amid questions about his cashing in more than $500,000 in unused sick, vacation and personal days.
As for Finley, we’re told by several sources that he helped Healy get the Lyons treasurer’s job back in the late ’80s.
Ed King, the attorney for the school treasurer’s office, also worked for Finley in the circuit court clerk’s office and managed the money in Finley’s political fund at the time of Finley’s corruption case.
And the father of another treasurer’s office employee was a close political ally of Finley.
We got Finley on the phone to ask about the tangled web, but he wasn’t in the mood.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” he barked before hanging up.
He may be testy, but at least he’s comfortable. Despite his corruption conviction, he is still collecting two taxpayer-subsidized pensions worth more than $90,000 a year.
To be clear, Finley isn’t accused of any wrongdoing in this instance, but his past transgressions and long-standing ties to folks in the troubled school treasurer’s office are intriguing, to say the least, and they suggest that the agency represents, or at least represented, one of the last vestiges of his once-mighty political operation.
The elected trustees who oversee the school treasurer’s office are pledging major reforms to clean up a mess that, to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, qualifies as another tangled web with too much deception woven in.
Sadly, that description also fits much of our city, county, suburban and state politics over the years. When is enough enough?
Andy Shaw is president and CEO of the Better Government Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 386-9097.