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 recognizing those who advanced the cause of better government following BGA investigations, regardless of their motivation.
The Illinois General Assembly. It took a while — decades actually — but state lawmakers finally did the right thing by eliminating the much-abused legislative scholarship program. They actually gave up a popular perk because of its misuse, which is something we don’t see very often in Illinois.
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 to pay traffic tickets. The mayor’s move will save taxpayers millions in unnecessary expenditures.
Gov. Pat Quinn. PQ has been known to change his mind on major issues, but when it comes to gambling expansion he’s consistently opposed bad bets approved by the state Legislature. Quinn vetoed a bill with overblown revenue projections, ethical shortcomings and taxpayer exposure on a Chicago casino plan. Hopefully, the next gaming bill will reflect his legitimate concerns.
Illinois Senator Kirk Dillard. He persuaded the state 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 questioned its legality, so a new version is being drafted. All aboard, Mr. Speaker.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Last January, she launched an internal audit to see if county departments and agencies were properly listing employee job descriptions and salaries in their budgets. This followed disclosure of serious irregularities in the Cook 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 DuPage government by cutting the budget and pledging to eliminate overlapping and unnecessary taxing bodies. Good start.
Chicago Board of Education. CPS canceled annual payouts of $30 million for unused sick days, and saved additional tax dollars by renegotiating a “sour” milk contract with a clout-heavy company. A-plus on both.
Lansing Village Board. Trustees finally eliminated a retiree pension sweetener that village taxpayers can’t afford, even if it made sense decades ago. Better late than never.
We don’t always agree with these public servants; in fact, we frequently criticize their governing decisions. But it’s important, and it’s right, to acknowledge magic moments when government puts the public ahead of the public officials, since we’re paying the bills.
So we hope they all had a happy Thanksgiving. This time they were not the turkeys.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-386-9097.