|City Treasurer Stephanie Neely|
One of the public’s beefs with the media is that newspapers and TV stations don’t follow up on enough of their stories.
A scandal or controversy makes a big splash when it hits the airwaves or the front page, and then, poof, it disappears like a wisp of smoke, so people don’t know what happened next.
The Better Government Association is making an effort to avoid that pitfall by periodically circling back to previous investigations — to “rewind” — so people get, in the words of broadcasting legend Paul Harvey, “the rest of the story.”
It’s also a good way to keep the heat on public officials.
Consider the flap over taxpayer-funded bodyguards for our politicians:
After he was elected Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel reduced the number of sworn police officers chauffeuring and protecting his predecessor, Rich Daley, Ald. Ed Burke and Emanuel himself.
But City Treasurer Stephanie Neely still enjoys the police perk, two years after the BGA and FOX 32 caught her using her security detail for personal business.
A cop was spotted driving Neely home from the gym in an unmarked police car, bringing in her garbage can from the curb, and chauffeuring her son.
Neely’s spokeswoman tells the BGA the treasurer “understands the concerns about misuse of any perk or service and is taking great care to not have anything like that happen again.”
But she still has a full-time cop driving and “protecting” her, though her office is low-visibility and she’s not a household name.
Maybe that’s not so good.
Moving on to another story, we reported last year on a Chicago firefighter whose snow-plowing side business had a municipal contract with a “special service area,” or SSA, a geographic zone where property owners voluntarily pay additional real estate taxes for extra services or improvements.
Problem is the contract violates a ban on city employees doubling as city vendors.
After our report, Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development conducted an audit, canceled the firefighter’s contract and revamped its protocol.
Now, all SSA administrators have to attend ethics training and sign affidavits stating they’re not hiring companies owned by city employees.
Sounds like a win for better government.
But a third “rewind” sounds more like fingernails on a chalkboard — apropos because it’s about the District 99 school board that oversees two Downers Grove high schools.
The board, to its credit, had a strong anti-nepotism policy until 2011, when they watered it down so a board member whose brother was an instructor at a district school could vote on an upcoming teachers’ union contract.
Despite the BGA’s objections, the board removed a restriction on members voting on matters affecting their relatives’ terms of employment. It was a bad move then and a bad policy today — an obvious conflict of interest.
But hope springs eternal, so let’s hope District 99 revisits the nepotism issue and puts the teeth back in.
We’ll be watching.
Andy Shaw is president & CEO of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or 312-386-9097.